Voice concerns now on budget cuts to schools

Cordova Jr./Sr. High School Teacher Hans Werner instructs students on how to mend a net during their net mending/deckhand class at school on Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. (Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times)

Editor’s note: This commentary was written by contributing authors Barb Jewell, Alex Russin, Sheryl Glasen and Pete Hoepfner.

I, along with Cordova School District Superintendent Alex Russin, CSD Board of Education Vice Chair Sheryl Glasen and board member Pete Hoepfner spent the last four days in Juneau meeting with 16 legislators and their staff, and attending committee hearings and House floor sessions.

We walked away with some very clear messages:

  1. Legislators need to hear from all of us.
  2. The current proposed budget solutions have seriously negative impacts for Cordova.
  3. There is currently no stable fiscal plan for our state.

Talk to your legislators

Both administrative officials and legislators stated a need to hear from Alaskans directly. Simply stated, they need to know what services we need and how we want to pay for it.

Do we want fully funded schools? Is the ferry system really necessary? Do we need to be providing preventive Medicaid dental services? Should the budget include money for Alaska Legal Services? And what about tax deductions for oil exploration? Are we willing to use the earnings reserve? Are we willing to give up all or part of our PFD? Do we want an income tax? These are the questions they are trying to answer.

Serious implications

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget has serious implications for Cordova. Under his budget, the school district stands to directly lose a minimum of $66,000 in our current budget (2018-19 school year). This is money that was appropriated last year and which we included in our budget but has not yet been disbursed. For the 2019-2020 school year the Governor’s budget proposes a 24 percent cut to education funding, a cut of almost $1 million to Cordova.

The governor’s budget zeros-out school bond debt reimbursement which would cost the city of Cordova $952,000. If this cost was passed onto the school district it would equate to the loss of half of our certified teachers.


Additionally, this budget cuts the Alaska Marine Highway system, ends the shared fisheries tax program, significantly reduces Medicaid (affecting our hospital) and cuts power cost equalization. According to the Alaska Municipal League, under the governor’s budget, Cordova will lose $5,678,847.

The House of Representatives is currently debating a significantly different budget. The House budget provides flat funding for education, and looks to replace some funding for the AMHS, shared fisheries tax and power cost equalization.  However, this budget is being debated on the House floor this week, and then will have to go to the Senate. School Bond Debt reimbursement is still not funded. So again, your legislators need to hear from you.

No long-term solution

The third message we walked away with is that neither the administration, nor the legislature have a long-range plan for fiscal stability. The administration stated that they are just trying to make expenditures match revenues.

The legislators we spoke to said that it is difficult to come to consensus because everyone has a different opinion about what to pay for and how to pay for it.

So back to point number one. Contact our legislators; and not just Representative Louise Stutes and Senator Gary Stevens. The budget is being heard by the full House and then will move to the Senate next week. Contact legislators on the Senate Finance Committee, the Senate Education Committee, and the Senate Transportation Committee.

All of our legislators are involved in this process and need to hear from us. You can testify by phone at the Cordova Legislative Information Office. They have information about how to contact legislators.

Speak up Cordova.

We have a lot to lose!

Barb Jewell is the chair of the Cordova School District Board of Education.