School Buses Doing Better

First Student school buses line up outside Joy Elementary School at the end of the school day Friday afternoon, August 31, 2018.

FAIRBANKS—The Fairbanks school district's spending plan for 2019-2020 came out late Thursday, and officials said it largely aims to maintain current programs.

The $243 million proposal increases public education spending by $753,771 over the current school year, reduces the number of teachers due to declining enrollment, maintains current class size targets and requests the same level of state and local support as was provided for the current school year.

"My goal is to maintain a status quo level of services for students," Superintendent Karen Gaborik said in a prepared statement.

The budget proposal will be presented to the Board of Education at its Tuesday night meeting.

The school district has also released a 31-page budget summary on its website, www.k12northstar.org, and is taking written comment through a web link.

The school board has a deadline of April 1 to submit an approved budget to the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

The proposal by the school district administration has new investments in the areas of career and technology education and information technology.

If the proposal is adopted, the school district will get a new cyber security officer and will add career and technology teachers at two high schools.

Overall, staffing at the school district is on track to be reduced by three positions, with the biggest changes happening with a reduction in general instruction and an increase to special education instruction, according to budget documents.

Funding for operation of a new K-8 charter school in North Pole that was previously approved by the school board is also reflected in the spending plan.

The school district additionally wants to buy new curriculum materials. Middle school and high school students are using language arts textbooks from 2003 to 2005 with no digital component, according to budget documents. The last time social studies materials for elementary students were updated was 2007.

A news release put out by the school district Friday notes that the district will need to draw almost $8 million from its reserves to maintain programs with flat state and local funding.

"The district faces several unresolved issues that could impact the budget," the news release states.

Borough and state funding levels for education remain uncertain.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy is expected to present his amended fiscal 2020 state budget on Feb. 13. Big cuts to state spending are anticipated.

Borough Mayor Bryce Ward's budget proposal comes out April 4. He has said he will probably ask the assembly to maintain the current level of education support.

Another big unknown deals with labor contracts. Contracts with teachers, principals and school support staff all expire on June 30.

Gaborik said "those future labor costs are unknown at this time." Negotiations are beginning.

About 86 percent of the school district's operating fund is spent on salaries and benefits.

District officials have exchanged proposals with the union representing school principals and are meeting with negotiators for the teachers' union on Feb. 13.

Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7587. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMborough.