Sitnews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska



by Mike Harpold


May 10, 2003
Saturday - 12:30 am

First it was the Education President. After enacting the No Child Left Behind Act with much ballyhoo, Mr. Bush asked the congress for only three billion of the estimated sixteen billion dollars needed to fund it. Then it was the Education Governor. After promising in last fall's
Mike Harpold

election campaign to fully fund K-12 education Governor Murkowski sent a budget to the legislature cutting Learning Opportunity grants by a third and reducing pupil transportation twenty percent, cuts which would have cost Ketchikan schools $435,000. Responding to public concerns, the legislature appears ready to restore most of those cuts, but unfortunately at the expense of the university system. Now it is our turn at bat, down here at the local level where children are educated, taxes are paid, and there is nowhere else to pass the buck.

On May 7th. the Borough Assembly and the School Board met to discuss next year's school budget. The school board is asking the borough to again fund Ketchikan schools to the maximum allowable level under state law and to continue to fund student activities outside of the state cap. Some of the borough assembly members present were tentative and wanted to hear from you, the voters, before committing their support. Their desire to hear from the voters underscores the dilemma facing assembly members this year.

"No one on this body was elected to raise taxes," Borough Mayor Mike Salazar commented. But the assembly cut the school district budget by $500,000 in order to balance the budget last year, and in the fall election, all the successful candidates pledged to fully fund education.

Next year's draft borough budget cuts the school district request by $519,000, does not fund $262,000 in student activities, mainly coaches salaries, uniforms and travel to athletic and academic competitions, and provides no money for community grants. Included in the community grants are two items for the University of Alaska Southeast, Ketchikan Campus: $15,000 to pay the tuition of Kayhi students who take classes at the campus to enhance their academic program; and, $151,000 to operate the Learning Center, which provides tutoring to many of Ketchikan's nontraditional students who are returning to the classroom and proctors tests for Ketchikan residents seeking certifications for a host of activities ranging from real estate to aviation.

Despite the proposed cuts to education, the borough still must use $1.2 million from reserves next year to balance its' budget. According to borough manager Roy Eckert, were the borough to entirely fund the school district and student activities, only $226,000 would be left in reserves.

It's not fair to say that education is the only strain on the borough budget. In recent years school funding has dropped to less than half of all borough spending. But even with the cuts in education funding the borough proposes, it is difficult to see how the borough can continue to pay its' way for another year without increasing revenue. A tax increase to fund education and other community services may be the only way these programs will be funded without having to cut other borough services such as the Borough Bus and Parks and Recreation. Push has come to shove, and if education funding offers the assembly the best justification for increasing taxes, so be it.

A one mill increase in borough property tax would restore school district funding to the maximum level permitted by the state, allow the borough to continue funding student activities this year and continue funding vital student services provided by the Learning Center at UASK. How much is a mill? A mill is one dollar for every $1,000 of assessed valuation. If the value of your home is assessed at $150,000, a one mill increase in your property tax would cost you $150. If I were hawking pledges for KRBD I'd point out that that is less than fifty cents a day. Is fully funding Ketchikan schools and the university campus worth that? In the blink of an eye.

So, yes, contact your borough assembly person. They have signaled that they will listen.


©Mike Harpold
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