Nome Public Schools proposes $15.84 million FY 2024 budget
Nome Public Schools will dip deeper into its savings next year if the Alaska State Legislature doesn’t increase funding to education, said Superintendent Jamie Burgess.
Burgess presented the final draft of the district’s budget for next year to the school board and the Nome Common Council last week. The district expects to spend $15.84 million for fiscal year 2024, about $1 million more than its budget for fiscal year 2023.
Under the budget draft, the City of Nome is asked to contribute $3.2 million, which is about 87 percent of the maximum amount the city can contribute and a $50,000 increase from the year before.
The state contributes the majority of the district’s budget, most of which comes from Alaska’s Base Student Allocation, or BSA. The draft anticipates that the BSA will be $5,960 per student—an amount that has been essentially unchanged since 2017. The district assumes that next year’s enrollment will be 693 students, with about another 27 students enrolled in a homeschool program. The district gets 1.2 times the BSA for each student with special needs and 13 times that amount for each student with intensive needs. The district expects to have 16 intensive needs students enrolled next year.
State legislators have been debating increasing the BSA. A bill in the Alaska House would permanently raise that amount by $1,000 per student. Another bill in the Alaska Senate would increase it by $1,250. Meanwhile, the Alaska House included a one-time $175 million boost to public education funding in its budget if neither of those bills are passed. This would be the equivalent of a temporary $860 boost to the BSA and would mean a one-time payout of $1.7 million for Nome Public Schools.
“We are really uncertain whether we’re going to get an increase to the BSA, which is truly what we want,” Burgess told the Nome Common Council in a work session last week.
Assuming the BSA is not raised, the district plans to spend $1,288,232 from its fund balance, which is nearly triple what it took from that balance in fiscal year 2023, and 15 times what it took in 2022.
“We are cutting deeper into our fund balance than we ever have before in order to balance our budget,” Burgess said. “We typically do pull a little bit of money every year out of savings, but this next year, it’s very, very deep in order just to get a balanced budget if there’s no increase whatsoever in the BSA.”
She later added: “Our goal is to budget well so that we spend our money on behalf of our students and our staff, and we’re not trying to stash anything away, but we always do have to have savings.
We need to make sure there’s enough money in the bank to make payroll and pay our bills.”
Burgess explained that the district expects to pay more for liability and property insurance, and their repair costs have risen because of inflation. The school system has also seen a huge increase in the price of fuel, paying almost double the amount it has cost in years past, Burgess said.
Teachers, too, are feeling the pressure of rising costs. The district is now negotiating with the teachers’ union, as it does every three years. The budget accounts for step increases for teachers’ salaries, but Burgess noted that current negotiations with teachers have stalled.
“Whether they’re a homeowner or a renter, all of them feel that they need a significant increase in pay,” Burgess said. “It’s been a rougher negotiations than it has been in prior years.”
She said that she expects turnover among teachers to be about 20 percent this year, whereas in previous years it has been closer to 15 percent.
“There’s always people that are going to have personal circumstances or whatever that are going to cause them to leave,” she said. But now staff longevity seems to be getting shorter. There’s been a nationwide trend of teachers leaving the profession altogether.
“It’s been very tough to be a teacher all through COVID and then this past year has been difficult to be a teacher,” Burgess said. “There’s a lot of unfortunate continued politicization of the school system and teachers sometimes just don’t want to be part of that.”
Those who leave Nome often cite another systemic issue as a reason for their departure: Many have a hard time finding sufficient housing that can accommodate a growing family or even pets, Burgess said.
The roof at Nome-Beltz Middle and High School is in dire need of repair, with increasing leaks and a few collapses. Though the state initially funded a project to improve it in 2018, the cost of the undertaking has greatly increased due to inflation.
Supplemental funding for the project recently ranked ninth on the list of major maintenance grant priorities issued last year by Alaska’s Department of Education and Early Development, or DEED for short. But additional funding from the state requires that the school district pay for a 30 percent participating share. The total cost of the roof replacement would be about $5.2 million, Burgess said, meaning the school would be on the hook for about $1.5 million.
“We do have it but it’ll drain about half of our CIP [capital improvement project] fund,” Burgess said
The school board is scheduled to adopt a budget on April 25, and the Nome Common Council has until 30 days after they have received the final draft to confirm the city’s contribution.