By DAVID BOYLE
The Anchorage School District has issued a proforma budget for its fiscal year 2025 (school year 2024-2025) to get out of its self-inflicted financial mess.
The proforma budget is for planning purposes, makes assumptions, and serves as a starting point for expected revenues and expenses while providing the same level of services.
The school district’s revenue is based primarily on the number of students counted during a three-week period in October.
Here is a chart showing the decrease in the number of students in ASD over the past decade:
The trend line is not positive for the school district, with more than a 13% drop in enrollment — and it projects to lose even more students by 2027.
The student count is not yet available on the State’s website even though all districts were required to provide that data to the Department of Education & Early Development by Nov. 10.
But the preliminary data for the current school year shows the Anchorage School District lost about 1,279 students—582 regular students and 697 correspondence students, year over year.
Of these correspondence students, approximately 600 were from the Family Partnership Charter School. Parents removed their children from that charter school when the district decided to remove its charter and turn it into a correspondence school.
The Anchorage School District also gained an additional 45 intensive needs students—providing an added $77,480 for each of the students to the district for a total of $3,486,600.
In its proforma budget, the district projects losing an additional 129 students in the next school year, 2024-2025.
Each student has a dollar figure associated with his or her enrollment. Some dollars are smaller, some are larger. An intensive needs student has the largest funding — at 13 times the regular student. A correspondence student is the smallest of all, at 90% of a regular student.
And the actual number of students is multiplied as it goes through something called the Foundation Funding Formula.
Here is a link to how the actual number of 43,978 Anchorage students grows to an astounding 73,124 students:
The school district’s solution to a declining student population is to increase the per student revenue. The district proposes to tell the Legislature to increase the Base Student Allocation by a whopping $1,413 per student. It further wants the Legislature to increase transportation revenue by $209 per student.
It seems the district is unable to think about how to live within its budget with fewer students.
That won’t stop the school board from moving ahead on its “we need more money” solution.
The school board has formalized its effort to get more money in a resolution it will ask the Anchorage Assembly to sign off on.
Here is a table provided by the district that shows the current year’s revenue and proforma revenue for fiscal year 2025 (next school year). It’s a bit complicated but focus on the blue highlighted entries. The ADM (Line 2) is Average Daily Attendance which is the student count:
Line 23 (second slide) shows a decrease of $8,201,773 in state funding due to the lower enrollment numbers.
The bottom line: The school district gets less state money because it has fewer students.
There are two major ways to fill a budget hole. One is to decrease the current expenses and the other is to increase revenue by asking the Legislature for more money for fewer students.
According to the district, the 2024-2025 budget hole is $98 million.
The district stated it could use its vast amount of unreserved funds, the ASD piggy bank for “rainy days.” If the unreserved funds were reduced to the state required minimum of 5%, the district would free up nearly $71 million to fill the budget hole. That would certainly be a step in the right direction.
There was the normal pandering by board members talking about school sports activities and decreasing them to save money. This is always a popular tactic to get the parents out in droves to demand more money from the Legislature.
The district could save at least $30 million by not building a new Inlet View Elementary School. Already once disapproved by the voters, the school board plans to hit voters up again in the next election to approve the rebuild.
The school board hopes to persuade voters to vote for this rebuild by tying the rebuild to vital security upgrades at several schools.
It is unfortunate that the board has jeopardized student safety with a wasteful rebuild of Inlet View Elementary School.
The district could also reduce its expenses by eliminating the Mental Health Office. The district has 18 Full Time Equivalent positions (personnel) in the new mental health area.
The district caused serious mental health problems for students by its mandated masking, social distancing, and school closures. So, now the district that caused students’ mental health issues wants to solve the problem it caused.
This is not a function of a K-12 public school system. By deleting this function, the district would save $3,625,335, as shown in this chart from the ASD 2023-2024 budget book, which is no longer available on the district web page:
Another function that should be done away with is the Office of Equity and Compliance. Deleting this office would save $571,306 for the district. Here is a chart from the ASD 2023-24 budget book showing the cost of this function:
This is just a quick look at some of the areas where the district can trim down its budget without impacting the classroom.
Surely, there are more seat cushions to look under for unnecessary money to include the consolidation and closing of several elementary schools.
We elect school board members to lead and make the hard decisions even if they are not popular.
Alaskans are tightening their belts and managing the inflation effects on the basics of energy, housing, and food.
Thanks to the Legislature, Alaskans have also contributed a majority of their statutory Permanent Fund dividends to fund the State.
It’s past time for board members to lead and ensure all our kids get the best education possible by focusing on the core mission of K-12 education.
As Thomas Paine said, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”
David Boyle is an education writer for Must Read Alaska.