The Anchorage School Board Tuesday night approved the district’s budget for next school year. The roughly $900 million budget is about 6% larger than this year’s.
The board approved closing a $48 million budget gap by, in part, shuttering two elementary schools — Abbott Loop and Ursa Major — and increasing the pupil-to-teacher ratio by one, essentially increasing class sizes.
Several school board members said they were disappointed about raising class sizes, particularly for kindergarten through 2nd grade. Board member Andy Holleman said he reluctantly supported the budget.
“None of us are doing this because we think it’s a good idea,” Holleman said. “We’re doing it because we think this is what we have to. Trying to spare lower grades is good, but at some point it just becomes inequitable.”
The rest of the budget deficit is being filled with one-time federal and state funds and the district’s savings. Holleman said he’s hopeful that the class-size increase can be reversed if the state boosts the amount of money it spends on public schools.
“This is, I hope, the easiest thing for the administration to walk back if we do get additional funds, based on the notion that there are teachers out there to hire,” Holleman said.
Legislators in Juneau are currently floating legislation that would increase the state’s base student allocation, or the number of dollars each district receives per student, by $1,000. The BSA hasn’t been increased since 2016.
Reading from the district’s budget book Tuesday, school board member Kelly Lessens noted that if the Legislature decided to, instead, continue flat funding for schools it will make budgeting even harder moving forward.
“These budget shortfalls could result in the elimination of over 1,200 positions in order to close the fiscal gap and balance the budget if additional revenue sources are not provided,” Lessens said.
The school district’s budget was approved by a 6-1 vote, with member Dave Donley opposed. The budget now goes to the city for final approval.