Anchorage School District proposes using federal funds to fill next year’s budget gap

Anchorage School District (Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

The Anchorage School District’s preliminary budget for next year would use federal money to fill a $67 million gap to avoid cutting jobs and increasing class sizes.

The Anchorage School Board will vote on the district’s preliminary budget later this month.

School District Superintendent Deena Bishop told the board that inflation, lower enrollment and a lack of state funding led to the projected budget gap for the 2022-23 school year. 

State legislators haven’t increased the base student allocation — the amount of money per student a district receives — since 2017. The state provided one-time funds in fiscal years 2019 and 2020, but did not in 2021 or 2022.

The funding the district is proposing to use is federal COVID relief money.

“We’re moving through and have a balanced budget next year without reductions, but the only reason why is the federal money,” Bishop said at a school board work session last week.

The preliminary budget also includes efforts to improve math and reading proficiency, such as hiring reading interventionists. It also increases mental health staffing by funding new behavioral analyst positions.

At a school board meeting on Tuesday, school board member Kelly Lessens said she would like the budget to include extra support for the district’s youngest students.

“I think that this year’s first graders and second graders, who were kindergarteners and first graders beginning school online, are extremely vulnerable and have the rest of their education ahead of them,” she said. “I think that they need intensive help.”

Lessens said she’d like to see smaller class sizes for those grade levels, but officials said that would require hiring 225 additional teachers. Bishop said the preliminary budget provides support for young students by funding reading specialists and behavioral staff.

In its preliminary budget document, the district wrote that fiscal year 2024 could be even more challenging as federal funds run out. According to the document, the budget shortfall that year, the 2023-24 school year, could be between $75 and $85 million and require the district to cut 750 positions.

The budget will be an action item at the next school board meeting on Feb. 22. Then the school board will submit it to the Anchorage Assembly for approval.

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