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Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

The Cost of Education in Ketchikan
By John Harrington


March 19, 2013

I have been following the education funding discussions here and in the public meetings. I usually try to avoid getting in the middle of these discussions, but I felt that some factual information might be useful. And we ought to look at all the information.

Here on SitNews there were two letters with two different amounts mentioned. Given how one interprets School Funding they both might be correct. So here goes:

Mr. Peterson says it costs over $20,000 per student in education funding. Whereas Mr. Timmerman, a School Board member says it is $13,636. Neither one specified where they got the figures, so let's analyze the data.

Mr. Timmerman said: The district has a current budget of $30,000,000 (a little less actually).

Now that is odd; because in November, the School District sought a change in its spending authority from the Assembly. Its new budget was $41,983,031. This would mean $19,083 per student if the 2200 student number is correct. The official figure is 2,176 students. ( Spending Authority document pdf)

I am not sure which figures Mr. Timmerman is using for the $30 million, but it would appear as if he included in his budget:

State of Alaska Foundation Aid $20,856,111
Borough appropriations (Mandatory) 4,220,699
Borough appropriations (Discretionary) $3,292,419
Borough appropriations (Discretionary-contractual) $526,400
Borough appropriations (Discretionary-activities) $200,000
Medicaid $100,000
State Funding Outside Formula $413,722
Other Operating Revenues $130,000
For a total of: $29,739,351

But there are other budget items not stated:

School Employee retirement funding-teachers $5,353,723
School Employee retirement funding-non teachers $743,905
(Note: these retirement funds never come to the district, they are provided by the state to the retirement accounts, but are included in the budget.)
Grants and other revenues $5,264,600
Carryover funds $881,452
(Note: Carryover funds are moneys left over from previous year, so do you count them, or not?)
For the official budget total of: $41,983,031

That would mean $19,294 per student, but that is less than Mr. Peterson's number. So what could he have had in mind?

Several things can be factored into the education costs not included in the above amounts:

Debt reimbursement for School Construction: $2,952,214
Capital projects: new roof, heating systems, etc. $1,500,000
High School Activities funds: $1,139,650
Then the total becomes: $47,574,895
Which works out to $21,863 per student.

None of these figures change a thing. Folks will still advocate for more or less money. Everyone will continue to work for his/her preference. But several things are certainly obvious, we in Ketchikan: value education; we want the best for our kids; and we love to argue over things.

Now back to our favorite sport before the salmon arrive Politics!

John Harrington
Ketchikan, AK

About: " I have worked on the School District budget 15 times nine as a member of the School Board and 6 as a member of the Assembly. It is never an easy process no matter what seat one holds. Almost no one in their right mind would want to understand the arcane science of school funding, myself included. "

Received March 17, 2013 - Published March 19, 2013

Related Viewpoints:

letter How much the district spends per student By Dave Timmerman

letter Ketchikan's Own Sequestration! By Gene Peterson



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