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Fairbanks schools chief: Governor's budget will have impact

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Posted: Sunday, December 25, 2011 10:46 pm | Updated: 1:35 pm, Wed Jan 16, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — Gov. Sean Parnell proposed millions of dollars toward education funding in his budget plans for the next fiscal year. He hopes to pump $8 million into continuing the Alaska Performance Scholarship in an effort to get students to challenge themselves in schools and graduate. He proposed flat funding for the public education funding formula for the next two years, which currently provides $5,680 per student in the state.

Superintendent Pete Lewis was not surprised by the governor’s proposed education budget and the flat funding for the foundation formula.

“He had previously stated last year, he was not going to do that (increase base student allocation),” Lewis said. “He’s been consistent in his message, but we’re always hopeful.”

The governor paid a visit to the North Pole Rotary Club this summer and let members know he plans to focus increased funding on the Alaska Performance Scholarship rather than the foundation formula, where he said money hasn’t made much of a difference in education results.

After the visit, Lewis wrote a letter to the governor’s office, pointing out that in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, during recent periods of increased funding, the graduation rate has increased dramatically.

He included a graph that showed the graduation rate went from 54.4 percent in the 2006 to ’07 school year to 71.1 percent in the 2010 to ’11 school year.

“Flat funding will make it difficult to continue to provide quality programs for our students,” he wrote in the letter.

In response, Karen Rehfeld with the governor’s office wrote that the governor is looking for more innovative ways to increase education results. She said some districts have shown improvement in graduation rates over the years, but others continue to have poor completion rates.

“Since 2007, state education funding has increased by $182.8 million, or 20 percent through increasing base student amounts, funding for intensive students, and district cost factors,” she wrote. “Over the same time period, the number of students has remained relatively flat — between 129,000 and 130,000 students.”

Parnell proposed to spend $1.1 billion on the K-12 education funding formula in the coming fiscal year and the same amount in the next.

She said Parnell can’t expect different results from “more of the same.”

Lewis said the highest-rising costs are those affecting the entire state — energy prices, employee salary increases, insurance, health care and even business supplies.

“We have called down and asked for more transportation funding,” he said. Currently the district’s transportation costs are funded 81 percent by the state, and the rest is supplemented out of the operations fund.

The governor proposed to spend $62.2 million on pupil transportation.

He asked the governor’s office to look into changing the transportation funding formula, especially for districts with significant bus fleets, which face the most rising costs.

“It’s time for the state to take a look at that,” he said.

“People and programs will be affected” by the coming year’s budget, he said.

The district must have a recommended budget created by the end of January. The school board will see it in March.

Contact staff writer Reba Lean at 459-7523.

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