Anchorage School Board dug deep $68 million fiscal hole using the Covid one-time funds

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By DAVID BOYLE

The Anchorage School Board has kicked the can down the road on its budget for the past few years. Consequently, it is facing a $68 million budget shortfall for the next school year. 

This shortfall results from bad decisions made since the infusion of federal Covid relief dollars. 

Much of this deficit is due to the district using one-time federal Covid money to pay for recurring costs. For example, the district has used $39.4 million federal Covid money to pay for teacher salaries and benefits.

It has also used another $2.9 million of federal Covid money to pay for non-certificated salaries.  Here is a chart from the State showing percentages of expenses spent from federal Covid money on various categories by ASD:

The total expenditure in the above chart is approximately $56.8 million.

The State Department of Education and Early Development warned school districts to not use the one-time Covid money for recurring expenses.  

“It is your responsibility to communicate to your constituents that this approximately $504 million in funding statewide is a one-time addition to your budgets. You should not make permanent programmatic commitments with these funds. You should communicate clearly to your communities the temporary nature of this funding and its intended purpose. In order to minimize the impact when these funds expire, school districts must wisely invest these one-time funds. For example, consider how you can focus on a limited number of short- term goals that promise the maximum benefit for your students in the years ahead,” the Department of Education warned.

But the Anchorage School Board ignored the warning.

The State Department of Education said, “Furthermore, it is important to understand that since these are one-time funds and given the State of Alaska’s current fiscal situation, do not anticipate a replacement of these funds with State funding when they expire”.

But that is what the district is betting on by pressuring the legislators once again to increase the Base Student Allocation and add additional funding to close the $68 million budget gap.

As the district faces this budget crisis, student enrollment has also declined, leading to decreasing funded from the State.  

Since fiscal year 2013, the Anchorage has lost more than 5,000 students while continuing with an even larger staff and excessive school buildings.  The following graph by ASD shows this disconnect:

The ASD Capital Improvement Plan shows an even more dramatic downward trend of students.  This projects a decrease of an additional 6,000 students by 2027.

It seems obvious to most that the need to close/consolidate schools to increase efficiency and lower costs is necessary. Once again, the school board faces some difficult decisions it previously failed to make.  

But tough decisions must be made.

The district acknowledges that 18 schools are less than 65% filled, based on its own space requirements, not the State’s space requirements.  

To help close a $68 million budget gap in the next fiscal year, the district must decide which schools to close and how to redraw school boundaries.

School closings and redrawing boundaries will be met with an uproar by parents.  

However, closing a school will only save about $500,000 annually.  The real cost is in salaries and benefits.  These account for 86% of the general operating budget of the district.

The most recent Annual Comprehensive Financial Report (formerly CAFR) shows that from 2016/17 to 2020/21 school years there has been an increase from 176 to 220 “administration” employees.  This is a 25% increase in overhead.

Since the 2022 adopted budget, Human Resources has grown from 29.69 FTEs (full -time equivalents) to 35 FTEs.  Likewise, the Equity & Compliance office grew from zero FTEs to 5 FTEs. 

This is typical of mission creep seen in a large bureaucracy.

During that same period of 2016/17 to 2020/21, the number of teachers decreased from 3263 to 3023, a 7% decrease in teachers.

We need effective classroom teachers more than administrators who push gender identity, diversity, equity and inclusion, aka critical race theory. 

The board needs to focus on its core business of teaching students reading, math, history, and social studies.  

Our students need to be able to enter college without taking remedial classes. Students need to be able to enter the work force able to read, do basic math, and use critical thinking skills to succeed.

The district needs to use multiple strategies and choices to avoid going over the fiscal cliff.  

And you can help in this effort. You can provide your comments and recommendations to the ASD here: https://www.asdk12.org/Page/19360.

David Boyle is an education writer for Must Read Alaska.

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30 COMMENTS

  1. Good Job, Suzanne. These are some VERY IMPORTANT CONCLUSIONS:

    “We need effective classroom teachers more than administrators who push gender identity, diversity, equity and inclusion, aka critical race theory.

    “The board needs to focus on its core business of teaching students reading, math, history, and social studies.

    “Our students need to be able to enter college without taking remedial classes. Students need to be able to enter the work force able to read, do basic math, and use critical thinking skills to succeed.”

    • Love your continued failure to understand what CRT is and how it is not being taught anywhere except a select few classes in universities focused on such historic things

      Maybe it’s you who needs to get a better education?

      If you want the students to get a quality education stop voting for Dunleavy and his orange ilk that are so happy to cut funding to our schools in favor of giving oil away to outside interests

      • Hold on there! The ASD has a budget of about a billion dollars, yet they can not manage to have a decent graduation rate or graduates, who actually CAN perform the tasks their high school certificate says they can. This isn’t about cutting, this is about allocation. The ASD has been a top heavy administrative behemoth for a long time. When they need money, however they manipulate the public by cutting only the very programs, that fulfill their mission. Frankly the state should mandate a limit on administrative/non-direct student personnel contingent on enrollment.
        So with all due respect, maybe it is you, who needs a better education and read beyond the talking points.

      • Reality. Spot on. CRT doesn’t exist yet its an easy placeholder for suppressed racism. It allows the white semi-racist to complain about being a victim.

      • Oh my, this is going to be fun. I can’t believe that you really want to play the “you fail to understand what critical race theory is” card. The Left has been using this argument for many months, attempting to deflect and dismiss the very legitimate concerns that the proto-Marxist idea – that race must always be at the forefront of everything, and everyone is either a victim or an oppressor – is being taught in schools. Just because a label is or is not attached to a concept hardly determines whether the tenets of CRT are being taught. What sophistry. To make it easy for you, I define CRT as the belief that RACISM is the fundamental organizing principle of society. And an integral part of that thinking there are always and only victims and oppressors.

        Many, including me, reject both ideas. (I hope that drives you nuts.) To the extent that these ideas are being foisted upon adolescents in Anchorage schools by teachers or administrators, critical race theory is being taught. And it is very, very wrong.

      • Realitycheck says: “Love your continued failure to understand what CRT is and how it is not being taught anywhere except a select few classes in universities focused on such historic things”

        What a breathtakingly disingenuous statement. Of course CRT is being taught on a daily basis at ASD. Of course Trans is being taught. Of course our kiddos are being systematically taught to hate one another based on the color of their skin. Why? Because the teachers’ unions demand it, support it, are hiding it, and ignoring all criticism. And the people they employ and elect (ANC School Board majority), are helping them.

        This will not end well. Sticking your fingers in your ears, singing “la, la, la, la, la” as loud and as long as you can won’t make the problem disappear, that is, unless you support it. Here’s a fun question: Does this make you a CRT denier? Cheers –

      • Clearly it is you, as intellectually superior as you think you are, who does not understand the obvious indoctrination and grooming going on in schools today. Maybe your “better education” failed you.

      • Must be a school teacher. You should be paid for a quality product, which is not what you are producing. I would trade you all for a six pack of beer and it would not have to be cold.

      • The problem with attempting to define CRT is everyone focuses on the R word. That is not the operative word in the phrase. The word Critical is the main and important word.
        .
        Critical theory is a way to change people’s minds by focusing solely on the criticisms of a system, ignoring all positives. Karl Marx was a proponent of it. If one only looked at the failures of a free market or capitalism based system, it became a lot easier to sell socialism/communism/collectivism.
        .
        CRT is no different. If you want to convince people there is such a thing as systemic or instutionalized racism, there is no better way then CRT. Yep, ignore all positives, ignore all advances blacks and minorities have made, ignore all strides the US has taken as a nation. Focus strictly on the negatives. That is he way to convince the simple minded that racism is a problem in the nation.

  2. It seems obvious that 1 or 2 schools could be closed and the buildings utilized for homeless housing.
    It constantly astounds me the education empire monopoly is so recklessly operated. I still maintain that we should ask Walmart if they would consider running the school system for us.

    • And who’s gonna pay for the maintenance of the new bum houses that used to be schools? The point here is to cut spending, not continue it.
      Do you want a pack of bums wandering around your neighborhood? I guess you don’t realize it but most schools are really close to peoples houses….almost like it was planned that way.
      Additionally why in the hell are we housing bums at all? There is no law anywhere that says it is our duty to Fred and home chronic inebriates.

  3. I would like to see a lib tax to cover it. They were stupid enough to vote for it so they should sept up and pay for what they wanted.

  4. And these are the smart people we elected to run a responsible school district business. Get what we got fooled. Dumb anchorage voters.

  5. Hold up now. It wasn’t that long ago that an MRAK guest editorial stated that the problem w/ ASD was the disproportionate cost of infrastructure vs educators. That’s graphs paint a somewhat different conclusion. What’s the 30k’ perspective?

    And on a related note, what is the appropriate discipline for a school board that mismanaged funds?

  6. @suzanne downing

    I would like to know, how many employees of ASD have hot there 20 years + and what % of the budget are going to these individuals.

    Would be interested if ASD will do another buyout/incentive/force retirement to those who have hit their twenty

  7. Much of this deficit is due to the district using one-time federal Covid money to pay for recurring costs. The Anchorage School Board knows better than you, if you haven’t figured their mindset out by now. Now they are saying we are going to have to cut teachers, close schools, etc. due to the millions of dollars they frittered away. They’ll have to look in their proverbial seat cushions to “find” $68,000,000 in the nick of time.

    As of July 18, 2022: The Anchorage School District, Alaska’s largest, has spent just $55 million of its $184 million allotment (from CARES, CRRSA & ARP COVID-19 Fed. Relief Funding), which leaves it with nearly $129 million in the [THEIR] bank. About 71% of Anchorage’s expenditures have gone to employee benefits and salaries. See: ‘https://app.smartsheet.com/b/publish?EQBCT=19160066a326463a805cfe4aa77457c3 and this link for any other school district spending ‘https://app.smartsheet.com/b/publish?EQBCT=0cfd777df5b94c0bbec27cc0631318a4

  8. Did the kids actually improve and excel in their studies or was all the money pissed away for woke teachers and the brainwashing of the children? Or maybe they spent big for a equity-diversity-gender affirming woke director that is about as useful as a used Kleenex tissue on a rainy day. Pull your kids out of the public school system and place them on a homeschool curriculum where they can excel. Anything is better than the government brainwashing they are going through in the reeducation camps.

  9. ASD is no different than hundreds of school districts across the USA that backfilled lower revenues with one time Covid money. Budget shortfalls and inability to fill Covid decimated positions such as teacher aides and bus drivers is not isolated to Alaska. The deficit would be significntly smaller if the BSA was inflation adjusted from the 2017 base. What household in Alaska could maintain a 2022 standard of living on 2017 wages? Where can you find a bus driver that will accept 2017 wages in 2022? Support State delegation nominees that suport adjusting the 2017 BSA for inflation

    • Frank, you always bring up, us not being any different than other jurisdictions in the lower 48. So what?? Does that make it any better that other places are as greedy and unable to manage funds as our ASD board? Can we not expect better??? The Covid funds were not meant for recurring expenses. The ASD had schools closed for over a year, yet somehow spent even more money than in a regular year.
      What is hitting the school district, is the BSA is based on enrollment, less enrollment less BSA. Clearly with all their jerking parents around, this is a self-inflicted wound.
      What does a house hold do in the 2022 inflation? They economize, they save and they make do. They may sell the vacation cabin. They don’t count on their “rich uncle somewhere” to bail them out. Yet our school district has less students, but wants the same amount of money to hang on to all the school real estate they build instead of providing better courses, and perpetuate the large number of administrator making large salaries.

  10. A hallmark of adulthood is the ability to consider the consequences of ones actions.
    .
    Something leftists never do when the prospect of free money shows up. Like a three year old being presented candy, the average leftist will leap at the chance at immediate fulfillment. Later on, when the bill comes due, they pretend it was not their fault.
    .
    The problem comes because the school board will not suffer any consequences from this fiasco. Instead, the taxpayers will foot the bill. And, the school board will remain free to do exactly the same thing again and again.

  11. I encourage everyone who lives in the Anchorage municipality to follow the link in the article and complete the ASD budget survey. Whether or not you currently have children enrolled in the ASD, you are paying property taxes (either directly on your own home or through the rent you pay to your landlord), which means you are paying for a failing system to become an even greater failure. It will only take a few minutes for you to make your voice heard.

    Personally, I’m tired of ASD’s blackmail: ‘if you don’t increase the budget each year and vote yes for everything on our bond wish list, then you don’t care about the children.’ I care enough about the children that I want them to become fully functioning members of society who can think for themselves and balance their own bank accounts, not young adults who are conversant in the evils of western civilization but with little else to offer an employer.

  12. Looks like IRS plans to tax fraudsters on illegitimate COVID-19 relief income.
    .
    In fact, that’s a story line at “Just the News.com”.
    .
    Looks like IRS plans to tax fraudsters on illegitimate COVID-19 relief income.
    .
    In fact, that’s a story line at “Just the News.com”.
    .
    Who could blame an insider for blowing the whistle to the IRS, or filing a False Claims Act lawsuit against school-board members for acting outside the scope of their authority to defraud the federal government under color of law?
    .
    If altruism isn’t enough incentive, maybe the possibility of recovering 30% of a multimillion-dollar qui tam judgment award is, no?

  13. So I guess the school board should be held accountable for their malfeasance of office. There is no plausible excuse for their actions. Start cutting the administration staff as too much money is wasted on them and close schools that need to be closed.

    Let’s see the lefty troll Lucinda defend them. Her comments are always canned answers from the left.

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