Nome Public School District braces for tough financial times
Nome Public Schools District Superintendent Shawn Arnold recently returned from a legislative fly-in session to Juneau where he met with legislators, commissioners and superintendents from around the state. “We talked about the current state of the budget.” Arnold told the board. “It’s pretty scary. We’re facing one of the worst crises for Alaska that we’ve ever experienced. They’re comparing it to rebuilding the state after the 1964 earthquake.”
The legislators are looking at three official plans to get the state through the next couple of years, Arnold told the board. They aim to have a budget delivered to the governor by March 15.
One plan includes amending the state constitution for income and sales taxes. The others are to access the constitutional budget reserve, and to create various appropriation bills. “Education is the state’s number one expenditure and we’re going to take the biggest hit,” Arnold said.
Districts are facing cutting up to ten percent of their budgets, which, statewide, is millions of dollars. For Nome, a ten percent cut translates to about $1 million. The Department of Commerce expects that the price of oil will drop significantly this summer, then, hopefully, level off at about fifty dollars a barrel. “To start recovering for our budget,” Arnold said, “oil would need to be about seventy dollars or more a barrel.” Nome Public Schools is working on a “Plan B” budget that will, for starters, decrease expenditures by five percent. The result could mean fewer teaching positions and less instruction to students. NPS business manager Lucienne Smith was online at the meeting to review next year’s budget with the board.
A direct result of the looming budget cuts is the omission of the JROTC program for next year. “We have had to take funds out of the reserve balance [to fund the program],” Arnold said. “If we do that again, it could bring us well below the five percent operating guidelines.” The district is required to keep at least five percent of their total operating budget in the fund (reserve) balance. “We’re not anticipating additional funding. There may be a chance to fund it later this spring or in the fall, but I’m moving forward with plans to let the Department of the Army know that we won’t be able to fund it. This is a difficult decision.”
President of the district’s Classified Employee Association, Bill Potter, expressed some concerns with the potential change in language of board policy concerning the hours in a workweek and subsequent overtime pay. Currently the language in the negotiated agreement states that any time over 7.5 hours a day and 37.5 hours a week would constitute overtime pay. The district is seeking to change the language to reflect a 40-hour workweek, Potter said. Potter maintained that the district, prior to making any changes, would need to consult the association. “Any action by the board [to change the policy], I believe, would be in violation of our classified employees negotiated agreement and state law, and I would have to file a grievance,” Potter told the board. Superintendent Arnold said that he’d consulted with the district’s attorney and that the board does have the right to change the policy. “But this is just cleaning up the language of the negotiated agreement,” Arnold explained. “It is a first reading for discussion, and it doesn’t mean the policy would be adopted.”
Kacey Miller from the University of Alaska Northwest Campus approached the board with an opportunity for NPS students who might not have needed Internet access while the public library relocates to the Richard Foster building. “Some math classes require students to work on ALEKS, a supplemental learning tool,” Miller said, “and we want to ensure that students can put in the time they need to. As a partner in education, our doors are open.” The Student Resource Center at Northwest Campus will available for students from 4 p.m.- 6 p.m., Monday to Thursday until the library computers are again available.
In other school board news, the board continues to hone the language of their new mission and values statements, which reflect the board priorities and goals set forth at their retreat in December. The board is closer to adopting an evaluation tool they will use for their superintendent evaluation in March. The newly formed NPS culture committee is inviting participation from the community. “The work of the culture committee will be pivotal in providing curriculum that’s aligned to cultural relevancy, and we’ll work with Kawerak in looking at examples,” Arnold said.