The budget also guts the IGNITE program for gifted students. Nine people spoke at the meeting and all were in favor of keeping the program. Robin Wetherell is an IGNITE teacher with 26 years in the Anchorage School District.
“Friday we learned the IGNITE program will be cut from 20 teachers to two. How two teachers will cover 60 elementary schools and 2,000 students was not shared,” Wetherell said. “This cut will end the IGNITE program.”
The proposed cuts make up 2.2% of the district’s budget. The administration wants to cover most of the nearly $100 million budget deficit by using a district savings account meant for emergencies. Superintendent Jharrett Bryantt said the fund balance would be nearly depleted, and warned of the risk of spending the rainy day fund.
“The analogy proposed earlier was around cutting down the fat. The fat is gone, we’ve torn into the muscle and will continue to do that if something doesn’t give,” Bryantt said.
The district plans to fill the budget deficit with $71 million from the district’s fund balance. The district closed Abbott Loop Elementary School last year in response to a budget deficit, and Bryantt has said that more schools will likely close in the future. Board Member Kelly Lessens said the depletion of the fund balance would be a risk for the district.
“I just think that we’re going to be running on fumes. If there is an emergency, I don’t know what we’re going to do. Let’s hope it’s a small emergency,” she said.
Board members discussed delaying a final vote on the budget, which is slated for Feb. 20, to allow for revisions if the Legislature passes significant funding increases to the Base Student Allocation, the per-student funding formula used to determine how much money schools receive from the state.
Schools received a one-time funding boost from the Legislature last year, half of which was vetoed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy. The Legislature failed to override that budget veto when they returned to session in January. Bryantt noted that even if the Legislature were to pass the proposed $380 increase to the BSA, the district would still face a deficit of $67 million. School advocates have been calling for an increase to the BSA, which has not been meaningfully increased since 2017.