FAIRBANKS — It’s gearing up to be a busy week for education discussions in local and state government. The Fairbanks North Star Borough School Board is holding two meetings to discuss how to possibly mitigate Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed education funding cuts. The governor’s slashed K-12 funding levels are also on the docket for two State House committees this week.
FSNB School District
The FNSB school board is holding a public hearing and work session at 6:30 p.m. today to discuss budget issues. This meeting will be held in the Board Room at the Administrative Center at 520 Fifth Ave. The board is also holding their regular meeting beginning at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the same location.
During Tuesday’s meeting, FNSB School District Superintendent Karen Gaborik will present an overview of the school districts Reduction in Force plan outlining anticipated budget cuts and possible lay offs as a result. The governor’s proposed budget, released last month, would seek to cut $300 million in statewide cuts to education. The governor also eliminated the on-time supplemention funding of $30 million for fiscal 2020. These combined cuts translate to an approximate loss of $29.5 million just within the FNSB school district.
“It is possible that due to the elimination of certain programs at the secondary level some currently employed tenured teachers will be laid off. For example, if certain elective courses are eliminated such as art, music or career technical education, it is possible that some currently tenured teachers who teach those elective courses will not be qualified for any other open positions,” the plan reads. “It is also possible that class size targets at elementary will be increased, which may result in the layoff of both nontenured and tenured teachers.”
School Board President Wendy Dominique noted that she’s heard deep concern from the public regarding the budget cuts.
“Some people from the very beginning said they wanted their PFD, and they were glad he was in there but now that this budget cut came out there’s been a lot of back stepping,” Dominique said in a phone interview Sunday. “People saying ‘I don’t want by PFD over the education of my student.’ So I’m helping them write letters and make phone calls and make sure their voice are heard.”
Dominique said she’s been trying to stay as informed on the process as possible.
“I’ve been keeping pretty up to date on the Legislature,” she said. “I’ve been watching ‘Gavel’ and there are others saying you can take a cut to deal with tight finances but to take a deep cut like this would close our schools.”
The FNSB school district is not the only one feeling the heat.
“We’re getting ready to put out a resolution with the ASD in Anchorage, to go up against the budget cut,” Dominique said. “We’re all on the same sheet here. We just feel like this is too big of a cut.”
School Board Vice President Tim Doran echoed that he’s heard many of the same responses.
“People are concerned, they are not pleased,” Doran said. “I’ve heard from several people, ‘If it’s between my PFD and services, give me the services.’”
Doran also noted how other aspects of the budget, such as taking oil and gas property-taxing authority away from the borough, could have negative effects on the school district.
The state Legislature appears to be buckling down in education discussions this week, as well with at least two different House committees meeting to hear presentations from state education officials and to discuss possible effects of such sweeping budget cuts.
The House Education and Early Development Finance Subcommittee will be hearing an overview of education and early development funding from members of the Legislative Finance Division, as well as Heidi Teshner from the Department of Education and Early Development at 8 a.m. today.
The House Finance Committee will also be hearing a presentation on education funding from Michael Partlow and Alexei Painter, both fiscal analysts from the Legislative Finance Division, 1:30 p.m. Monday.
Rep. Grier Hopkins, D-Fairbanks, said the House Education Committee has not specifically discussed what level of funding they would support yet.
“But I know I won’t be supporting cuts of more than $200 million to K-12 across Alaska along with zeroed out $6.8 million in state funding for Pre-K,” Hopkins said. “I have a problem seeing so many opportunities in K-12 that I had growing up in Fairbanks eliminated. And Sen. Bishop asked it right, ‘How do these cuts make our schools better?’”
Rep. Bart LeBon, R-Fairbanks, is a member of the House Finance Committee. LeBon said the subcommittee process is finally starting, which means there will be further discussion of education funding, noting the issue is one of importance to him.
“One thing about K-12 education, every House district has K-12. I think I have two middle schools, a high school and five elementary schools — if I’m adding right. K-12 education has got to be on most everybody’s priority list,” LeBon said.
A full list of the week’s committee meetings can be found at akleg.gov.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMPolitics.