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Assembly OKs Measure Setting Minimum School District Funding for FY19 at $48 Million

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly approved a resolution Thursday stating it will provide at least $48 million to the school district in the coming school year. That’s $2 million less than district officials had requested. But the substitute resolution introduced by Matt Cooper is $7 million more than the $41 million called-for in an original minimum-funding measure introduced by Mayor Karl Kassel.Cooper’s original resolution would’ve set minimum funding at $50 million. That’s the same amount Kassel called for in his initial budget proposal he submitted to the Assembly last month, and it’s the amount spelled-out in a resolution approved by the Assembly’s finance committee last week.

“I proposed a minimum funding resolution with a 50-million-dollar number because I felt that we ought to have a number that at least more accurately reflects where we’re going with this,” Cooper said.

Assemblyman Van Lawrence moved to reduce the minimum amount in Cooper’s resolution to $48 million to give the borough a bit of wiggle room during formulation of its $165 million total budget.

Lawrence said Assembly members almost certainly will in the end approve the $50 million requested by the district when they pass a final budget next month. But he says the Assembly must pass a resolution now that states the minimum amount it’ll allocate after the school board passes a preliminary district budget and before it passes its final budget.

“The resolution before us is a state law requirement that we have to pass it,” he said, “and we have to state what our minimum amount is within 30 days after they make the request or make their initial budget.”

But Lawrence and other Assembly members emphasized the Assembly always has in recent memory approved a final allocation that’s higher than the minimum.

“In the six years I’ve been on the Assembly, that minimum amount has never carried any weight,” he said.

Much of the debate over the resolutions focused on tense relations that have developed between the district and borough due to what some say is an excessive amount of money in the district’s reserve account and risk-management fund. Assembly members suggested the district could use some of that money to help offset budget cuts.

Christopher Quist and other Assembly members also told school board Treasurer Thomas Bartels that a barrage of e-mails they’d received last week added to the aggravation. The communications were in response to an e-mail and texting blast district administrators sent out last week to teachers, staff and others that suggested the $41 million minimum allocation was all the district would get next year.

'You should look at our in-box – it blew up.'
-- Assemblyman Christopher Quist, referring to the public's response to an e-mail and text-message blast by district officials.

“You should look at our in-box – it blew up,” Quist said. “And there are several dozen people that are concerned – that would be rightly concerned – if this was a real issue or like an actual possibility.”

Bartels said the administration didn’t intend to mislead anyone about the budget. He says the district wanted to alert its workers that there’s a chance the borough could approve a $41 million allocation.

“The fact that the minimum (funding) of 41 million dollars is out there, (means) that it’s up for discussion, it’s up for consideration – it’s the bottom floor, if you will,” Bartels said. “And so, the fact that that’s out there, I think we can agree that that could be a possibility.”

Bartels said he and his fellow board members hope to get back to working with the Assembly during the run-up to its vote on a final borough budget on May 10th. The school board will consider passing the district’s budget on May 22nd.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.