The Fairbanks board of education voted 4-3 at its Tuesday night meeting to reject the school district administration's proposed budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.
The board scheduled a special meeting for 6 p.m. Monday to discuss potential budget cuts. The deadline for the budget to be finished and submitted to the borough is Friday, June 12.
Board members on Tuesday looked at a recommended total budget of $243.5 million, which is around $3.7 million less than last year's approved budget for the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District.
The recommended local contribution for public schools was cut by $1.5 million to $48.5 million by the Borough Assembly in mid-May.
Several board members voiced concerns Tuesday evening.
“I am a very cautious personal finance person in my own life, and I will be very honest: This budget terrifies me a little bit, considering the future as we look forward to the loss of oil revenue, tourism revenue and an uncertainty within our state,” said board member Jennifer Luke, who voted no on the budget.
Board Member Matthew Sampson said he echoed Luke’s sentiment of caution, noting he would not support the budget.
“I find it difficult to support a budget that we never once, in my recollection, went back and made a single cut," he said. "At no point do I recall any reduction from a proposed budget from admin, so I feel, if I was trying to count my pennies and save some dollars, I would have seen some reductions supported from a board stance, but I do not see that and anyhow I will not be supporting this budget.”
Board member Erin Morotti questioned where cuts would have come from.
Sampson responded that the board would have to hold a conversation to identify areas to cut.
“I’d say we would have had to sit down and identify those areas,” he said. “I would say probably every single area of the budget. You could open it up.”
Chief Operations Officer Andreau Degraw said he appreciated the remarks of Sampson and Morotti, adding he thinks all board members are aware of the “financial headwinds” they face and are concerned.
The district has to balance its mission with the financial resources available, according to Degraw.
“Fund balance is really the focal point of this dialogue. We look at, what levels of fund balance are we holding? There’s a history to that," he said. "We see current levels of fund balance, and the question is, do we cut student services right now? Is this the right time to cut student services?”
“Really, in order to make significant headway on the deficits between our planned expenditures and expected revenues, we’re having to plug that gap currently with fund balance,” he said.
Degraw added that he and Superintendent Karen Gaborik came to the decision that it is not the right time to make “meaningful reductions to student services” due to what they’re facing with the school closures and COVID-19.
Board President Wendy Dominique said the budget is a tough one for her. She added she needs some concessions on the budget brought to the board.
“It is very frightening. In my 16 years I haven’t seen this, as low of a fund balance,” she said. “It just really frightens me for our future, for our students. Where are we going? What is our priorities?”
Board members Luke, Sampson, Dominique and Sean Rice voted no on the budget. Morotti, Chrya Sanderson, and Vice President Tim Doran voted yes.
Eielson Air Force Base representative Col. Chad Bondurant and Fort Wainwright Post representative Col. Christopher Ruga can each cast advisory votes. Both voted yes.
Contact staff writer Kyrie Long at 459-7510. Follow her on Twitter at: twitter.com/FDNMlocal