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Kodiak Island Borough increases education funding after KIBSD cuts $4 million from its budget

From left to right, Nova Javier, the borough clerk, Ryan Sharratt,
The Kodiak Island Borough discusses whether or not to increase education funding. From left to right, Nova Javier, the borough clerk, Ryan Sharratt, Scott Smiley, Larry LeDoux, Borough Mayor Scott Arndt, Bo Sedillo-Whiteside, Jared Griffin, and James Turner.

The tension in the assembly chambers was palpable during the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly’s special meeting on May 30. It lasted over an hour as Assembly members grilled school district staff about how the extra money would be spent.

The school district’s Board of Education submitted its budget proposal on April 30, meaning the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly was facing their deadline. The budget included $111,314 more than the district received in 2023, for a total of $12,316,558. That’s less than a 1% increase from year to year. The increase was also presented after the district already cut $4,120,940.90 from its budget.

The Assembly approved increasing education funding with five in favor and one against. Bo Whiteside was the sole dissenting voice, Steven Ames was absent.

Cyndy Mika, the school district’s superintendent, said the budget they presented even included laying off two administrators.

“It is the hardest conversation I had sitting at this table in this office,” Mika told KMXT.

The biggest talking point at the meeting though was that the Alaska State Legislature approved a one-time funding boost of about $680 to the Base Student Allocation. The BSA is the formula for how the state distributes education funding.

A similar one-time funding boost was approved by the Legislature last year, but was slashed in half by Gov. Mike Dunleavy in his line-item vetoes.

She said during the meeting it was possible but impractical to rely on one-time funding from the state.

“I could do what some other districts are doing – and they’re using the one time money for salaries,” she said during the Borough Assembly’s special meeting. “But then that means that instead of $3 million dollars next year, I’m looking at $5 million next year to cut. That is an impossible task for a superintendent that’s already cut 35 positions and reduced supplies by 10% and activities, travel by 25%.”

Most of the positions cut in the budget were staff who were already resigning or retiring.

Despite the increase, the school district is still below the maximum amount of funding they can receive from the municipal government. Mika said she and the Board of Education are aware of the challenges to Kodiak’s economy. She said that they don’t want to add more pressure to raise property taxes, or mill rates.

“It’s not fiscally responsible for us to ask for the cap when the community is also having a financial crisis,” she said. And so I don’t want to ask for the cap and the mill rate have to go up for everyone.”

Geoff Smith is the outgoing principal of Kodiak Middle School and served on the Kodiak Island Borough as recently as last year but chose not to run for re-election. He testified at the special meeting that his house assessment went up by 27% but said he didn’t mind paying the extra taxes if it meant supporting schools.

“I don’t mind paying a higher assessment on the home because I believe in public education and I believe in making sure that we fund our education for our students,” Smith said. “I have absolutely no faith – and I’ve said it when I sat up there – that our governor didn’t do the right thing by our kids. I just don’t. But I do have faith in this body, and I have faith in our community to do the right thing by our students.”

The school district has to submit its final budget by July. It is unknown whether or not Gov. Dunleavy will approve the one-time funding from the legislature this year.

Editor's note: Geoff Smith's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this article.