Dunleavy’s proposed cut to education funding would cut more than $400,000 to Bristol Bay schools

Feb 1, 2019

Dillingham superintendent, Jason Johnson, said that Dillingham will “be okay this year,” but he said that he sees the move as a hit to education in Alaska and especially to rural schools.

Dillingham Elementary School
Credit KDLG

When the legislature adjourned in May, the legislators agreed to a budget that increased public school funding by $20 million. The Dunleavy administration made a supplemental budget request Monday that would cut $20 million for education from this year’s budget.

Of that $20 million, the state estimated $26,860 would go to the Bristol Bay Borough School District, $127,035 to the Lake and Peninsula Borough School District, $178,283 to the Southwest Region School District and $95,372 to the Dillingham City School District.

The money had not yet been sent out to schools. Dillingham superintendent Jason Johnson said that Dillingham will “be okay this year,” but he said that he sees the move as a hit to education in Alaska and especially to rural schools.

“We already recognize that there’s a teacher shortage throughout the state. We already acknowledge that our retirement benefit system has little allure to new teachers,” said Johnson. “Now add to the headlines that public education, the community centers of many villages, and the aspirations and dreams of our kids are all the low-hanging fruit in the legislature. I struggle to see how, when you add all these things up, it’s going to help us retain and keep those quality teachers and help change the direction of education in the state.”

Ekwok School is a part of the Southwest Region School District
Credit Avery Lill/ KDLG

He stressed that school funds are already stretched thin. If cuts to education funding become a norm, he thinks that will negatively affect students and communities.

“The budgets are already tight, especially in all the small districts in the state and even in the larger ones. If this would be a trend, there’s no way that the district could continue to operate at its capacity as we do today,” Johnson said.

In a Senate Finance Committee meeting on Tuesday, Donna Arduin, director of Alaska's Office of Budget and Management, explained, "We worked with our agencies to identify areas where money had not yet been dispersed and identified this area as one of, you'll see, several in the budget in order to make up for the needs of short funding in the current budget as well as the priority needs of earthquake disaster response and recovery."

Dunleavy’s supplemental budget request would also cut $3 million for the Village Public Safety Officer Program, while increasing funding for Alaska State Troopers by $3.6 million.

Rep. Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham said that some legislators were surprised to see the governor propose significant cuts to programs in a bill that would adjust the state’s budget midyear.

“I’m very concerned about these reductions,” Edgmon said. “You know, a lot of people were caught off guard. I’ve talked to a lot of legislators, both House and Senate, who are very concerned about these cuts.”

He said he anticipates these proposals are setting the stage for a factious battle over next year’s state budget.

“These budget reductions are just the tip of the iceberg. The governor’s full budget proposal is expected on Feb. 13. What we’re being told is to brace ourselves for a reduction of about a third of the overall unrestricted part of the budget, which is essentially what the legislature deals with… I think it’s going to be more contentious than I’ve ever seen it down here before…We’re going to have to take significant chunks of money out of important health and social services programs, education, transportation.”

Kokhanok School is a part of the Lake and Peninsula School District.
Credit Avery Lill/KDLG

Before the legislature can make a decision about Dunleavy’s budget proposals, the Alaska House of Representatives will need to organize. Last week, the nomination of Republican David Talerico, a Republican from Healy, was met with a 20-20 split vote. Edgmon was also nominated to serve another term as speaker of the house, but his nomination was withdrawn after the split vote for Talerico.

Edgmon said the House is in a “standoff.”

Bristol Bay Borough School
Credit KDLG

“We are having great talks in terms of what we agree on and what we disagree on, and I think in the end that’s going to pay dividends in that we’re having hard conversations early in the session,” said Edgmon. “We all recognize that we have a new administration with new priorities, and that the greater emphasis is going to be on the budget going forward. Public safety is I think is going to be a component. The Permanent Fund and the Permanent Fund Dividend are also going to be very contentious issues as well. But I think it’s less issue oriented, in terms of putting organization together, than it is sort of two different coalitions that can’t seem to be able to come to a decision in terms of who’s going to be in leadership and how this diverse coalitions going to be put together.”

The Dunleavy administration introduced also introduced a second supplemental spending bill on Monday. It would provide funding for earthquake relief.

Contact the author at avery@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.