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Nome Schools Face Budget Shortfall as City Council Debates Funding

City council members Stan Anderson (left), Jerald Brown (middle), and Randy Pomeranz. Photo: Matthew F. Smith, KNOM.

Nome Public Schools could see a shortfall of hundreds of thousands of dollars if budget numbers from Friday’s City Council work session don’t change.

“The main issue is, if we don’t provide any additional school funding we’re OK,” council member Tom Sparks asked aloud at Friday’s meeting, “but if we want to, then we’re going to need to raise additional revenues, isn’t that it?

“That’s it in a nutshell,” a chorus of council members responded.

The city has a mandatory contribution to the schools based on property taxes. For the 2014-2015 fiscal year, that amounts to just over $1 million; last year, it was $834,000.

According to information provided by the city during several recent budget work sessions, last year the city gave Nome Public Schools about $1.87 million, including $100,000 in “wish list” projects. That amounts to 62.3 percent of the maximum contribution the city can put toward schools.

For the upcoming budget, there’s no “wish list,” but the schools are asking for more: a total of $2.3 million, once again a request of 62.3 percent of the maximum.

With the city’s budget already stretched, the schools hoped funding would be at least equal with last year’s amount, but after crunching the numbers Friday, the city council is preparing to give the schools far less: about $1.2 million, with a possible “contingency appropriation” of $270,000 also on the table.

School superintendent Steve Gast was at the meeting Friday. He said the numbers mean, at best, a $380,000 cut. At worst, he said it could be a decrease of more than half a million.

“That’s a lot of money for us to try and figure out how to make up the difference with,” Gast said.

“When you’re talking that type of money, the only place you can go is personnel, and have to start cutting teachers and having to start raising class sizes, and cutting some of the programs that we have. So it’s obviously very concerning for us.”

Councilman Stan Anderson said what’s being offered is what the city can afford without spending its reserves or increasing taxes.

“If somebody wants to give them more money than that, they’re going to have to take it out of savings, or raise the mill rate,” Anderson said, both options he feels are untenable.

With raising the mill rate—essentially increasing property taxes—and the city’s savings account both off the table, the council debated Friday where additional funds for the school (and other city services) might come from. The search ranged from taxing personal property like aircraft, to adding sales tax on banking transactions, to making non-profits pay sales tax on things like groceries.

School funding, however, remains the budget keystone. The rest of the city’s budget remains on hold until final funding for Nome schools is set.

The Nome City Council meets Tuesday, May 27 at 7 p.m. to make its final decision on how much money the schools will receive.