he Fairbanks North Star Borough School District Board of Education approved a three-year contract for Karen Gaborik Tuesday. Gaborik had been heading up the district administration for about a year now, and her tenure so far has been filled with challenges.
A year after she took over as acting superintendent, when her predecessor had been placed on leave and then later fired, Karen Gaborik was finally, officially given the job. Just in time to preside over a budget crisis caused by state education funding cuts.
Despite her baptism by fire, Gaborik says she’s glad she got the job.
“I love a challenge,” she said. “Y’know, I grew up in this community. I came up through this system. I am vested in this district.”
The district school board approved granting a three-year contract to Gaborik on a 6-to-zero vote. Board member Sean Rice, who was attending the meeting via telephone, didn’t vote.
Gaborik was the district’s assistant superintendent of secondary schools until April 2014, when the school board appointed her acting then interim superintendent in the wake of the suspension and later firing of Pete Lewis for what the board called “incompetence.” Mainly, his failure to respond to concerns about a Hutchison High School tutor who was arrested in March 2014 and charged with sexually abusing a minor on campus.
The board decided to hire Gaborik as the new superintendent late last year.
“They voted in November to bring me on as superintendent,” she said. “But I’m under an interim contract, which basically is just basically an extension of my assistant superintendent position.”
Gaborik’s contract runs from July 1st through June 30th, 2018. She’ll be paid just under $160,000 annually, and be given a $13,000 annual expense allowance.
Gaborik says her main focus now is dealing with funding cuts inflicted by the Legislature. She and the school board hammered out a $274.9 million budget two weeks ago that’s $11 million lower than last year’s and that will require laying off about 60 people, including about 30 teachers.
Then on Friday, the district learned it may have to cut another $6.1 million, because the state Senate sliced $47 million from the program that pays for school districts’ base student allocation.
Gaborik says unless that latest funding cut is reversed, the district will have to lay off an additional 55 people. She says this time, it’ll mainly be teachers, and that’ll mean more packing more students into classrooms, which the district had until now managed to avoid.
“I think the feeling is we are going to have to have the conversation about class size if we have to cut another $6.1 million,” she said. “In my mind, there’s just no way you can get at that without looking at class size.”
Gaborik and Lisa Pearce, the district’s chief financial officer, along with board President Heidi Haas, are all scheduled to present the district’s recommended budget to the borough Assembly on April 16th. The Assembly will hold a public hearing on the budget and begin final deliberations on the budget on May 7.