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Fairbanks schools budget $15 million less than last year

The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District Board of Education passed a $222,873,000 budget Wednesday night – about 15.3 million dollars less than last year’s spending. The recommendation includes about a $56 million ask from local taxpayers. The budget goes now to the borough assembly for approval.

Wednesday's meeting began with a budget of $222,405,773. After weeks of hearing from parents, teachers and department heads, the board narrowed the budget to two scenarios. One would have kept the Teacher Pupil Ratio, or PTR, much the same as this year but would have asked for a larger local contribution from the borough. Board member Erin Morotti moved to pass this version, called Scenario B.

“Adding back secondary PTR in order to keep class sizes in high school and middle school classes at their current size," Morotti said. "Also, adding back E L P teachers and increasing the local ask to the assembly by 4.35 million in order to cover these additional expenses. This is the honest, and this is the transparent ask, not the kind-looking ask."

Member Tim Doran agreed, saying the borough administration has already posted its intentions to give the district more money this year.

“This is a very, very appropriate time for us to ask for more money. It is in the mayor's budget and higher than our original, uh, target,” Doran said.

Borough Mayor Bryce Ward has a resolution in front of the Borough Assembly for tonight’s meeting to approve a $3.4 million increase in the local contribution – to 55.5 million.

But board member Melissa Burnett said the board should approve the version called Scenario A, that cut more teacher positions, but asked for a smaller contribution from the borough.

“The state is trying to minimize their responsibility and they are shoving it onto local taxpayers. They also had good conversations with community members who do not feel that we should be putting this responsibility into their tax money,” Burnett said.

A vote to approve Scenario B failed 3 to 4. When the board took up Scenario A, member April Smith moved to include a component from the other scenario, and return four Extended Learning Program teachers back into the budget.

“In the spirit of compromise. Like to amend the motion to include funding E L P in our request,” Smith said.

That also meant the spending had to go up. Chief Operations Officer Andreu DeGraw explained.

“ Then the increased expenditure of the 468 for the four E L P teachers, the increase in the ask of the Borough by an additional 468,000," DeGraw said.

The board approved the amended budget 6 to 1, with Erin Morotti voting against the greater cuts.

The total spending plan is $222,873,000.

The school district budget is wrapped into the borough budget, which the Assembly has been working on and will finalize in May. If the state legislature approves more funding to Alaska schools this year, the school board can adjust the spending plan in June.

Robyne began her career in public media news at KUAC, coiling cables in the TV studio and loading reel-to-reel tape machines for the radio station.