WEEKEND HANGOUT – Gina Lusher, foreground right, and other Sitka Cirque aerialists rehearse Thursday night for this weekend’s show, Cirque Noir, at the 207 Smith Street studio. The show includes cage dancers, live music and champagne. Kids from first grade through high school will have a separate fundraiser showcase event Saturday afternoon from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Tickets for both shows are available online at sitkacirque.com. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

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Daily Sitka Sentinel

Assembly on Board With School Support



Sentinel Staff Writer

The Assembly responded favorably to the school district’s request for the maximum allowable in local funding for schools, plus funding for “non-instructional” expenses, in a joint work session Thursday with the School Board.

In addition to discussing funding for the schools, the annual work session allows the Assembly, city staff, school staff and school officials to discuss the financial situation of the community.

The cap for local funding of educational expenses this year is $7,697,278.

But school “non-instructional” expenses outside the cap, and which can be provided by the city, include:

– an estimated $300,000 collected through a special 6 percent marijuana sales tax passed by voters, dedicated to student activities and associated travel.

– $150,000 building maintenance.

– $66,000 to heat the Performing Arts Center at Sitka High.

– $122,000 for Blatchley pool operations.

– $360,000 from the city’s federal Secure Rural Schools program for schools and roads. The city and schools generally share these funds, but the amount for this year’s program, which is renewed annually, hasn’t been passed by Congress yet.

– $132,220 for student activities. This is separate from the marijuana sales tax proceeds.

The total allocation from the city general fund requested for schools came to $8,827,498, which is about the same as the current year.

In the discussion, school officials also said they may also ask for additional funding if the base student allocation from the state is raised, and the allowable cap for local funding also goes up.

Last year, the Assembly funded to the cap, which was about $8 million. The cap is now $7.7 million because of the decline in Sitka’s taxable property valuations, Additional local funding for non-instructional expenses brought the total amount of local support to $8.8 million last year.

The school district is entering the 2023-24 budget discussions with an expected $2.8 million deficit, based on current budget assumptions.

City Finance Director Melissa Haley said the work session gave her the information she needed in preparing the city budget.

“I think we got the starting point and we’ll take it from there,” she said, adding, “(Assembly members) still have plenty more opportunity to weigh in.”

The allocation for the schools is the Assembly’s single biggest spending decision each year.

“This will give us a baseline to start looking at where our general fund is,” Haley said. “We’ll put this ($8.8 million) into our general fund budget unless we hear differently. That will be the amount that goes into the administrator’s draft budget.”

Haley said she also took note of comments from school officials about the likelihood that the state’s base student allocation could increase this year.

“If it does it could mean significantly more funding from the state for schools, and it also means the allowable amount for the city is also increased,” she said. “They (School Board members) indicated if the allowable amount does increase they’re going to ask for additional funding.”

School Superintendent Frank Hauser highlighted a few points in the financial presentation to the Assembly.

– Current enrollment 1,125 students. 

– 40 percent caucasian, 23 percent Alaska Native/American Indian; 8 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, 7 percent Hispanic, 1 percent African American.

- Free and reduced lunch, 38 percent

– Dropout rate 2.46 percent

– Total school district staff, 230.

– Official enrollment from the October census period, 1,111.2 students.

Hauser noted that the 30 additional students since the October census do not qualify the district for additional per-student funding from the state.

In the school district budget, about 61 percent comes from the state, 2 percent from the federal government and 37 percent from the city general fund. 

This year the school district budget is at $23.8 million, with $21 million in revenue currently projected. The district is expecting to consider increased pupil-teacher ratios, reduced staff and programs as required to balance the budget, the School Board said in the letter to the Assembly.

School Board President Blossom Teal-Olsen said, “We’re very thankful for the Assembly funding us to the cap last year and previous years. I want to stress how important it is that we continue to support our education system, especially during this time because every single cent that is given to us is looked over, spent wisely and stretched to the point where I really don’t know how we do that.”

She said the teaching staff is “amazing,” and also stretched thin.

“They want the best for our students,” she said.

School Board member Tristan Guevin took note that schools have had flat funding from the state since 2017, and that local funding to the cap makes a difference for students and families in the district. He said the state base student allocation (BSA) was increased by a half percent ($30 per student), which does not cover the 24 percent increase in inflation in the same time.

“They would have to increase the BSA by over $1,700 for us to just keep up with inflation,” Guevin said. He also expressed gratitude at the meeting and in an interview today, to the school district partners who support the district and education, including Youth Advocates of Sitka, Sitka Counseling, Sitka Sound Science Center, Sitka Tribe of Alaska and Sitka Fine Arts Camp.

“I just think it’s important to keep the level as high as possible so that we can continue to provide that high-quality education and continue to take pride and support our students, our parents and families, and our teachers,” Guevin told the Assembly.

From the Assembly, Thor Christianson said he would support giving as much as possible to the school district, and help the district close its funding gap.

“We should fund the schools as much as we can,” Kevin Mosher agreed, and expressed support for finding “efficiencies” between the schools and city.

Assembly member Tim Pike, who teaches at Sitka High, supported funding to the cap, and encouraged the Assembly to “be as creative as possible” in funding beyond that. He shared some of the information he had from the Association of Alaska School Boards about the increase in the BSA under discussion, which could help close the budget gap.

Mayor Steven Eisenbeisz said it’s important to remember that “you get one chance with every student each year.”

“It’s important for the districts to put their best foot forward in educating each of those students, and it’s important for the Assembly to help facilitate that education,” he said.

In recent years both the School Board and Assembly have agreed to fund to the cap – and have found ways to go beyond that, he said.

Hauser said this year he is more optimistic than in past years that there might be an increase in the BSA, providing as much as $516,000 more from the state.

“We don’t get to dictate the timeline with the Legislature,” he added, “so we might be in a situation where that is not determined until after we have to propose the budget.”

Mosher said he was comfortable with the $8.8 million in local funding requested by the School Board in its letter, but not commit to anything higher at this point.



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At a Glance

(updated 9-12-2023)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 8:57 a.m. Tuesday, September 12.

New cases as of Tuesday: 278

Total cases (cumulative) statewide – 301,513

Total (cumulative) deaths – 1,485

Case Rate per 100,000 – 38.14

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

COVID in Sitka

The Sitka community level is now "Low.'' Case statistics are as of Tuesday.

Case Rate/100,000 – 152.50

Cases in last 7 days – 13

Cumulative Sitka cases – 3,575

Deceased (cumulative) – 10

The local case data are from Alaska DHSS.






December 2003

The Sawmill Cove Industrial Park board of directors endorsed a final contract tuesday for the city to sell a minimum of 40 million gallons of reservoir water per year to an export company based in New York City. ... under the contract Quest would have the right to purchase up to 1 billion gallons of water per year at 1 cent per gallon



December 1973

 The City and Borough of Sitka conducted a community public opinion poll evaluating municipal services and facilities. ... The overall results gave this priority order: 1. roads and highways; 2. water and sewer; 3. downtown parking; 4. garbage collection and disposal; 5. hospital and medical facilities; 6. planning and zoning; 7. boat harbors.


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