Mayor Kassel proposes school district fund cap, Education leaders push back

By  | 

FAIRBANKS, Alaska - The conversation on a Borough Assembly Ordinance to cap the school district's reserve funds continued Monday evening at a special meeting organized by the School Board.

The ordinance was introduced on Thursday, October 11th, at the regularly scheduled Borough Assembly meeting, by Borough Mayor Karl Kassel. This sparked a heated debate between the Assembly and the School Board representative in attendance, Tim Doran.

Presiding Officer on the Assembly Kathryn Dodge showed her discouragement during Thursday’s meeting, "We are in a, apparently a trust deficit in many places and clearly we have a trust deficit right now between the school board and the assembly," she said.

If approved, this ordinance would not permit the school district from accumulating unrestricted fund balances, for all funds and from all sources, greater than 18 percent, or about $9 million dollars, of the borough's July 1st direct appropriation to education for the fiscal year.
Under this ordinance, any funds above this cap would go to building maintenance. The district fears that, if passed this would then take roughly $17 million dollars of its $34 million in reserves to go to the Borough for this maintenance.

Mayor Kassel tried to explain to the Assembly Thursday evening why he proposed such an ordinance, “The school district came to us pleading that they were broke and needed the lapse to not take affect and so the Assembly said okay, you don't have the money, well then when the audit came through there was tons of money and a huge accumulation, that's why we need to have the funds intended to go to facility maintenance reserve actually go there," he said.

Speaking at Monday’s special meeting, School Board President Heidi Haas recalled her early years on the board in regards to budget, “My recollection is that when I came onto the board six years ago we had less than 2 million dollars in our fund balance, which was I remember a very scary place to be. In the six years I've been on the board I feel like we've gone from a place of being extremely scared about how we could cover major expenses to a place where we are responsibly able to handle things that come our way,” she said.

There was also concern that this ordinance may touch funds from donations or money raised by booster clubs for sports and student activities.

Superintendent of Schools Karen Gaborik also said that the ordinance is so poorly written that it is very difficult to know what to expect.
A work session will be held on Wednesday, October 17th, and it is scheduled to be voted on at the Regular Assembly meeting held on Thursday, October 25th.