Seth Balint addresses the crowd and his wrestling team. Photo by Amanda Williams

Education finances remain in a state of flux, with Cordova’s school budget facing a huge deficit, as legislators battle with a governor determined to pour millions of dollars into charter and private schools. In Cordova, current education options are neighborhood schools or homeschooling. 

At the forefront of this fight is the Base Student Allocation (BSA). 

“I think that unless the Legislature provided significantly increased funds into the BSA we are going to see students, teachers and families leave our community,” said Cordova School Board President Barb Jewel. “What parent wants to send their child to a school where there is no food service and activities have been reduced?” 

“The outmigration we have seen for the last decade in Alaska will continue and will increase. Solutions coming from the Dunleavy administration so far haven’t worked. He has been in office for five years and his solutions are clearly not working,” she said Tuesday. 

No decisions have been made yet, but Jewel provided the list of options under consideration for cutting. 

They include priority 2/3 instructional resources, food service, extracurricular activities, one high school math teacher, one sixth grade teacher, a maintenance assistant, counselor, a high school aide (new position), one elementary school physical education teacher, a second kindergarten teacher, administrative resources/tools, and board expenses. 

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Jewel said she was concerned over a lack of many phone calls from parents of students presently enrolled in Cordova’s public school and urged everyone to reach out to their legislators with concerns about the state’s investment in public education.   

“That’s the thing that is going to make a difference now,” she said. 

Jewel said in a letter being posted on the school district’s website, with email addresses for legislators, that consistent underfunding, a failure to inflation-proof education spending as is done by most other state funding, and a poor retirement system have had increasingly negative impacts on schools statewide, including Cordova. 

But there are some silver linings as well, she said, including a promise from legislators who did not vote to override the governor’s veto of the education budget bill to support increased education funding via another bill or route. 

“We now have to hold them accountable,” Jewel said. “Consider reaching out to legislators to let them know our needs and situation and your hopes for Alaska’s kids.” 

School Superintendent Alex Russin was on vacation and unavailable for comment. 

Legislators in Juneau had scheduled a public hearing for Wednesday on House Bill 392, introduced in House Resources and referred to the House Education and Finance committees. The bill contains references to funding internet services for school districts, charter schools, transportation for public school students, correspondence studies, the BSA, reading improvement plans, and teacher retention and recruitment incentives. 

HB 392 would include a BSA of $6,640 and funds for transportation for public school students, including $409 per student in Cordova.  

Also included are funds to create a position dedicated to charter school support in the state Department of Education, with responsibility for helping to establish more charter schools, including legal services, and lump sum payments in 2025, 2026 and 2027 to full time teachers for the purpose of retention. For Cordova schools that lump sum payment would be $10,000. There is no mention in the legislation of requiring teachers receiving the bonus to sign a long-term contract. 

This story was originally published in the March 29 issue of The Cordova Times.

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