Two programs tied to the fiscal health of Nome Public Schools were the focus at the Nome Board of Education meeting last night. And neither was fully resolved.
The district is grappling with how to fund the Junior ROTC at Nome-Beltz High School. The program has been financially possible the last few years through sizable contributions from Sitnasuak. But that hasn’t happened this year, meaning the school district has to decide whether to dip into savings or cut JROTC all together.
“What I recommend is that we approve and have the program, but that we use this school year to seek additional members of the community or outside members that’d be interested in helping us fund a program,” Superintendent Steve Gast said to the board. “And basically look at it that we have between now and the end of the budget cycle for the 2015-16 school year to secure the funding to continue the program going.”
Gast thinks it’s worth absorbing the cost—about $87,000—this year because a few unique circumstances have made it slightly cheaper than in years past.
However, board member Jennifer Reader put the program’s future in perspective, should the district try to keep the program going with no outside support.
“Unless we find this funding this program probably won’t make it through the cuts of next year’s budget cycle,” Reader said, laughing uncomfortably.
The measure voted in by the board means this year the district will be dipping about $300,000 into savings in order to cover the school year ahead.
Concerns over money lingered through debate over whether to vote for a contract that would outsource management of Nome Public School’s food program to a third party. The contract has yet to be reviewed by the district’s lawyer, which bothered several on the board. And Barb Nickels raised concerns about how the contract, which aims to keep district costs flat while providing more nutritious meals to students, has the potential to rack up unforeseen costs.
“Everybody knows it’s a good thing—good lunches, good breakfast—everybody knows that,” Nickels said. “But while we’re cutting positions and such, and adding more dollars into our three-quarters of a million in the hole and two years from our savings—is why I cannot approve embarking on a new program that would then have to be sustained.”
But district business manager Paula Coffman says potential overages are minuscule in the big picture, especially after the meeting’s earlier JROTC decision.
“I understand Barb’s concerns about hidden costs. We just got through spending a long time talking about seeking other funds for a program that’s gonna benefit 30-something kids,” Coffman said. “And, you know, if we need to go out and get 20 or 30 or even 50-thousand dollars for a program that’s gonna benefit hundreds of kids,”
“But this is new,” Nickels shot back. “Once you start something new, you better be able to sustain it.”
The contract in dispute is with NMS, which stands for NANA Management Services, a company jointly owned by the Kotzebue based NANA Development Corporation, and an American subsidiary of Sodexo, one of the world’s largest multinational corporations. If accepted, NPS’s four current employees would stay on, but be managed by NMS. However, any new hires would officially be NMS employees, paid the same wage rate, but with a different benefits package.
Ultimately the board decided to send the draft contract to the district’s lawyer in Anchorage, and hold a special meeting in the weeks ahead to decide whether or not to sign with NMS.