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City council gives Unalaska school district full financial support but worries about future funding

Maggie Nelson
Council member Thom Bell said the city has enough funds now, but they might not be able to continue contributing at this rate.

The Unalaska City Council will give the school district its full funding request this year.

Vice Mayor Alejandro “Bong” Tungul supported granting the request.

Our school is our pride and joy in the community, and kids are our future,” Tungul said.

Council voted unanimously at its meeting April 23 to give the district its full ask of nearly $6 million. That’s about half a million dollars more than last year’s handout and includes extra funding for programs like preschool and food services, as well as community schools, which shot up more than $700,000 this year.

Council member Shari Coleman said she’s concerned about the changes in that amount.

“I just hate to see that being the trend going forward,” she said.

The use of school facilities, like the pool, has increased, according to district officials. They’re asking the city to chip in more for maintenance and fuel costs to keep those facilities running.

The district is also making up for stale funding from the state.

Educators have been pushing for increases to the government’s per-student contribution for several years, and Legislators passed an education bill last month that would have increased that per-student funding — known as the Base Student Allocation or BSA — by $680. Gov. Mike Dunleavy ultimately vetoed the bill and Legislators failed to override that by one vote.

Coleman said she thinks the school may have to expect flat funding from the state for a while.

“Until the leadership in our state government changes, this is what we're stuck with,” she said. “I think our Senate and our House did a great job of trying to get the BSA increased, and that didn't pan out.”

The Unalaska school will get the maximum amount allowed from the city by state law. That’ll come from the city’s general fund and total nearly $4.4 million. The city’s total contribution makes up about 16% of its projected budget.

Council member Thom Bell said the city has enough funds now, but they might not be able to continue contributing at this rate.

“We probably should, as a council, when we do state lobbying trips, make it a priority to talk to our state legislators about funding schools so that we don't end up in a situation where our schools are running short,” Bell said.

Lack of funding has made it difficult for districts across the state to retain staff and Unalaska is no exception. But full funding from the city can help the school hire and keep teachers, according to district officials who have repeatedly discussed the difficulties of retaining new faculty with increases in living expenses and travel costs to get on and off the island. The community has also seen major cuts to the regional ferry system, which has historically been a more affordable and popular way for teachers to move to the community. Some of the local funding will go toward salary and insurance increases.

Six teachers resigned this school year, and the district is still trying to fill two of those positions.

The city has until the end of June to appropriate the school district’s funding.

Hailing from Southwest Washington, Maggie moved to Unalaska in 2019. She's dabbled in independent print journalism in Oregon and completed her Master of Arts in English Studies at Western Washington University — where she also taught Rhetoric and Composition courses.