Nome school district faces financial crisis

As education funding emerged front and center in the beginning of the 33rd Legislative session in Juneau, Nome Public Schools’ board of directors is grappling with the state-induced funding shortfall of $ 1.3 million budget for fiscal year 2025, raising the specter of having to cut 11 teaching positions.
“It’s not a guarantee that 11 positions get pulled when we look at the second draft budget,” School Board President Darlene Trigg said. “We’re hoping to formulate a budget that has more input from our community and thinks through what is reasonable for us to make cuts.”
Nome Public School Board met last Tuesday in a work session to discuss the first draft of the 2025 budget.
Nome is one of many Alaska school districts facing major budget deficits due to lack of adequate funding from the state of Alaska.
The Base Student Allocation, BSA for short, provides districts with their primary funding for instructional positions, but it has not been keeping up with the rate of inflation. According to the Association of Alaska School Boards, or AASB, the BSA has increased by only $280 since 2011. AASB is advocating for a $1,413 increase for fiscal year 2025 bringing the BSA to $7,280. This number was created after calculating the rate of inflation since the last major increase in the BSA in 2017.
This boost would be enough for NPS to remain “status quo”, Trigg said, preventing any major cuts impacting the district’s operations.
NPS’s ideal number is an increase of $1,740 to the BSA. This would allow the district to restore programs that were previously in place but cut due to lack of funding. It would allow the hiring of a cultural curriculum director, an after-school counselor, a school nurse at the elementary school, a districtwide certified librarian, and more.
Before talks of 2025 budget began NPS teachers attended school board meetings throughout the year, voicing frustrations with their salary.
“Hiring has been tough,” Trigg said. “In hiring you have to have competitive wages. We just haven’t been able to keep up as a district with all of the needs for this community to have a meaningful school.”
Teachers are doing so much with very little, and they’re asking the school board for something it can’t provide, Trigg said, the board feels like their hands are tied.
Meanwhile, there seems to be no help coming from Juneau. During the first week of their session the legislature failed to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s cut to the 2024 education budget. Last year, after the legislature approved a one-time funding of $175 million to the education budget, but Dunleavy cut the amount in half with a veto. In a joint session on Thursday, January 18, the House and Senate failed to receive a majority vote to override the governor’s veto.
Dunleavy addressed the Alaska Chamber of Commerce last Thursday stating he would veto an education bill passed by the legislature if its only focus was increasing the BSA.
The governor said he wants lawmakers to pass a package that includes provisions for more charter schools, gives teachers bonuses and provides more funding for homeschooled students.
Most recently, House Republicans of the Rules Committee amended Senate Bill 140, which originally was legislation tied to accessing federal funding to increase internet speed for K-12 schools. However, Republican lawmakers altered the bill significantly to include amendments that seem to address the requests from the governor, and a $300 increase to the BSA.
Trigg said the $300 increase wouldn’t cover more than one teaching position for NPS.

What’s next?
Nome Public Schools is required to turn in their finalized, balanced budget to the City of Nome by May 1 which is typically before the governor wields his veto pen and then signing the state’s budget into law. This means the district needs to create their budget without the assumption that they will receive additional funding from the legislature, Superintendent Jamie Burgess said.   
During the January 23 school board meeting, which was attended by school board members, school administration and district administration, many discussions were held on where to find the money for the following year.
“My big concern is that it used to be when you have budget cuts in the smaller, rural district, people go to the road system. Now people aren’t even going to go the road system, people are gonna just leave Alaska entirely. And it will be so difficult to get teachers that I’m wondering what might this look next year?” Burgess wondered during the meeting.
Though the group struggled to find any concrete solutions now, they agreed it was important to get the word out to the Nome community. Discussions of advocacy and increasing community involvement concluded the meeting.
“We have an opportunity to move the needle,” Trigg said in a call with the Nugget. “Advocacy is certainly something that we can all do.”
NPS school board is putting together information on how to contact decision-makers, making templates available so the community can send letters to elected officials in the House and Senate finance committees and to local representatives.
“We want to make sure everybody knows the State is responsible for providing school systems under our state constitution, open to all children of the state,” Trigg said. “In small communities across Alaska, the school is usually the heart of where community events happen, where people gather to celebrate where children are come to learn their place in the world, and their place in their community, to build the relationships that will last them a lifetime. And we owe it to them to really make sure that we have an education system that is meaningful, and gives them the best foot forward for them to contribute to their communities.”

 

The Nome Nugget

PO Box 610
Nome, Alaska 99762
USA

Phone: (907) 443-5235
Fax: (907) 443-5112

www.nomenugget.net

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