‘This did not happen overnight’: Anchorage schools superintendent says a variety of factors created $68M budget shortfall

The outside of the Anchorage School District Board Room at the Education Center in Anchorage, taken March 13, 2020. (Mayowa Aina/Alaska Public Media)

The Anchorage School Board outlined its projected budget shortfall for the Anchorage Assembly on Friday.

“The district is facing a budget shortfall of approximately $68 million going into the next fiscal year,” Superintendent Jharrett Bryantt told Assembly members. “This did not happen overnight. Over numerous years, a variety of factors have contributed to the situation.”

One factor is the base student allocation, or the BSA. That’s the amount of money the state gives districts per student. The state hasn’t increased the BSA since 2017. Meanwhile, record-high inflation has required the district to spend more money.

“Our fiscal deficit really did start in fiscal year ’18, when the BSA stayed the same,” said Jim Anderson, the district’s chief financial officer.

Over the last several years, Anderson told the Assembly, the district has used one-time state funding and federal relief money to fill that gap. He said that hid a growing structural deficit.

“It just was hidden, in some ways, to the community because it was covered,” he said. “One year we laid off more than 200 teachers, only to hire them back — or at least try to hire them back — several weeks later when one-time funding was approved.”

Superintendent Jharrett Bryantt (left) and district chief financial officer Jim Anderson (left) speak to the Anchorage Assembly on Friday, Sept. 23, 2022. (Screenshot from ASD’s livestream.)

The school board’s finance committee has spent the last several weeks mulling over possible budget cuts, which could include school closures and cuts to language immersion programs.

The board has also discussed how to use this year’s one-time state funding. 

City Assembly members Daniel Volland and Chris Constant supported using some of that money to replace Inlet View Elementary School.

“Inlet View really is the beating heart of my neighborhood,” Volland said.

School board member Dave Donley said he’d prefer to remodel the existing school building rather than replace it entirely. He said the money that would save would help the district avoid other changes — like increasing class sizes.

“If the choice is between increasing classes by five or building Inlet View this year — doing a full tear down and rebuild —I’m going to go with class size, to protect the kids all over the district and not just in one neighborhood,” Donley said.

The board’s next meeting on Oct. 4 will include an initial briefing on school closures by a consultant hired by the district. According to Anderson, the district will likely know the number of schools it could close by the following meeting on Oct. 18.

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