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By ZACHARY HALASCHAK
Daily News Staff Writer
Following this week’s contentious Ketchikan School Board meeting, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly is slated to hold a public hearing on the district’s budget on Tuesday.
The Assembly voted 5-2 at its last meeting to approve the first reading of an ordinance that would increase the school district’s spending authority from $40,554,499 to $44,115,565.
The $3.5 million increase is, according to Superintendent Bob Boyle, not because the district just wants more money — but, rather, is a result of increased student count, changes in grants and other factors.
During the last Assembly meeting, Boyle told the Assembly that they had budgeted conservatively, working in a 2.5 percent cut when determining the budget.
“The thing to keep in mind, and I want to be very clear on this, is that this is not an attempt in any way shape or form to expend funds out,” Boyle said at the meeting. “This is a straightforward process of where the school district has more students, we have a larger district budget than what we had started out from. These are all legitimate expenses in the normal operation of the school district.”
Assembly Member Alan Bailey, who voted in favor of the ordinance, told the Daily News on Friday that he was hesitant at first, considering the fiscal climate, but after doing his own research he decided that the increase was acceptable.
“I originally was reticent at first and was wanting a very clear explanation and I made an assumption because I’ve got experience with — sometimes you make decisions and it turns into a big political mess,” Bailey said. “… I was gravely concerned about that.”
Bailey said that he called “a good portion” of the 54 school districts in Alaska to gauge how Ketchikan is faring in comparison to other districts. Bailey said his concerns of political blowback were assuaged.
“After talking to all these school districts, I don’t think there is sufficient organization to even be worried about, … whether there is a political implication or not,” Bailey said. “I don’t think the state’s got their act together to even be concerned about that, so I backed off that.”
Bailey said that some districts are being hit especially hard. He noted that Nome’s district is considering cutting after-school programs, including the music program.
But, others on the Assembly disagreed and thought that the increase was too much in the current fiscal climate.
Assembly Member Susan Pickrell, who voted against the ordinance at the last meeting, told the Daily News on Friday that she just didn’t think that level of increase would be good for the borough, given the state’s fiscal crisis.
“We pretty much thoroughly discussed the issue in terms of the budget (at the last meeting),” Pickrell said. “The Assembly voted the way that they voted at the last meeting, and obviously I’m just one vote on that Assembly and I certainly respect the wishes of the rest of the borough Assembly because we act as a body.”
Pickrell, who along with Bailey is also on the School Board-Assembly liaison committee, expressed that her mind isn’t entirely made up on the budget going forward and that she looks forward to hearing more during both of Tuesday’s meetings.
“I just think now is not the time to increase the current budget,” Pickrell explained. “… It’s kind of hard to at this point to know until I get to the meeting and hear the arguments on both sides and see what the final numbers are, because that will make a difference on whether I’ll vote in favor or against.”
Tuesday’s meeting comes on the heels of this past Wednesday’s School Board meeting, where dozens of members of the Ketchikan Education Association showed up to announce they are filing an Unfair Labor Practices grievance with the district after contract negotiations stalled.
It’s unclear how negotiations will impact the district’s budget until agreements are reached between the two parties.
Since this is the first public hearing, those who wish to speak on the topic are allowed to, as the hearing is open to public input.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the Assembly is also expected to:
• Hear a presentation from the Ketchikan Marine Industry Council.
• Hold a public hearing on appropriating $18,301 from the FY 2018 borough budget for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers bargaining unit.
• Hear reports from both the borough mayor and borough manager.
• Discuss tobacco excise tax proceeds.
Although usually on held on Mondays, the Assembly meeting was moved to Tuesday because of Presidents Day.
Tuesday’s meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly chambers, 1900 First Ave. There will be time for public comment at the beginning of the meeting.