Jerilyn, Jaylynne and Justin Gasmen on the first day of school at Mt. Eccles Elementary. Photo by Kinsey Brown for The Cordova Times

Educators statewide, including the Cordova School District (CSD), are somewhat on hold in budget development for the coming year, waiting to see whether Gov. Mike Dunleavy signs or vetoes legislation before him that would boost the Base Student Allocation (BSA) by $680. 

Cordova School Board President Barbara Jewell said on Friday, March 8, that even with that $680 per student increase the CSD would face a $900,000 deficit, and without any increase a deficit of $1.5 million. 

The increase needed just to meet the current operational cost for the district would be $1,440, she said.  

“This administration has not supported education appropriately. Most of the people who have children in the schools are very concerned. They understand not only are we facing the deficit, but we are struggling to hire teachers. Because of the policies of the state of Alaska, we have a great deal of difficulty recruiting qualified educators,” she said. 

Senate Bill 140, which passed the House 38-2 and the Senate 18-1, was sent to the governor’s office on Feb. 26. On Feb. 27, Dunleavy called a news conference to announced that he would veto the bill if it doesn’t include his priorities, including cash bonuses of up to $15,000 per teacher per year to help retain educators, as well as millions of dollars in addition for charter schools.  

“It’s clear that charter schools are working well and deserve focus and expansion,” the governor said.  


The vast majority of students, however, attend public neighborhood schools. The current rate for the BSA was last set in 2017 at $5,930, and educators said that figure has not kept up with inflation. 

The CSD is facing challenges with salaries, benefits and affordable housing, Jewell said. 

“Alaska salaries are no longer in the top 50% nationally, particularly when you adjust for the cost of living,” Jewell said. “And Alaska is the only state that only has a defined contribution plan (for retirement) and it is not sufficient for retirement. Other states may have a combination of defined contributions or defined benefits. Many other states have a more appealing retirement program for their teachers.”  

Health care is also no longer a defined benefit for Alaska teachers. 

CSD began the early stages of budget development in February, with Superintendent Alex Russin encouraging the community to pay attention to the budget process. 

The school district must submit its budget for the coming school year to the state Department of Education by July 15. Russin had earlier estimated the projected deficit at $235,000. 

Russin said the school district, with 356 students enrolled, budgets about $100,000 per teacher to cover salaries and benefits. The package deal for the 187-day contract includes sick leave and seven holidays, plus medical, vision and dental benefits. 

Federal funds currently pay most of the cost of the school breakfast and lunch programs, to which all students are entitled, but Russin said the school district still bears some expense for those meals, which include a daily fresh fruit and vegetable bar. Fish is also routinely on the menu. 

Should Dunleavy veto the education package, the Legislature is required by the state constitution to meet in a joint session within five days to vote on sustaining or overriding the veto. 

Jewell said she is encouraging Cordova residents to communicate with their legislators. Dunleavy’s funding policies “have undermined the strength of public education,” she said.