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Nome City Council Looks To Fully Fund Schools

City councilmen (background) listen to Superintendent Shawn Arnold and Nome school board members (foreground)

The Nome City Council is one step closer to a full contribution to Nome Public Schools’ $16 million budget. It could move a funding-increase resolution forward to the second reading phase at its regular meeting tonight.

At a special work session last week, the Council voted unanimously to approve a resolution increasing its contribution by $600,000 from last year, for a total of nearly $3.1 million.

Mayor Richard Beneville was happy about that.

“A good education is what draws people to Nome, and that’s what I’m interested in seeing. Not just for the kids that are here — they deserve it, absolutely — but we want to attract people to Nome.”

Council Member Stan Andersen says he’s concerned the school district’s request has gone up significantly each of the past several years. He asked what the district’s plan is to find money once the city can’t give any more. Its state-mandated funding cap is $3.2 million.

But Jennifer Reader, Board of Education vice president, says that’s not the district’s problem.

“The school district can’t generate income. The only people that can do that are you guys. And so we’re going to refer to you and the state, with a little bit from the federal government. Our job is just to make sure we spend our money that we get from you guys to the best of our ability.”

The district’s expenditures will increase by about $600,000 in the upcoming school year. School board members say that’s due to things like increased energy costs, health care, and required teacher raises.

Even with the full contribution from the city, the district will still cut two of the four elementary school teacher aides and one of the two Pre-K teachers, along with about a third of the $150,000 student travel budget.

The city will likely dip into its savings account to fund schools and other services this fiscal year. City Manager Tom Moran says the funding caps are in place to guarantee a minimum level of service.

“I have heard time and time again that the police don’t respond in time and they aren’t staffed enough, our dust control isn’t adequate and they aren’t staffed enough, our snow removal doesn’t happen quickly enough and they aren’t staffed enough. I have to look at 13 departments that need to be run efficiently, and I’m hearing complaints about the seasonal sales tax, I’m hearing complaints about property assessment values going up, and we still have to run the city.”

The Alaska Legislature passed a one-time education funding boost of $20 million this year, but it’s not yet clear how much of that NPS will receive.

The Nome City Council meets for a regular meeting tonight at 7 pm in City Hall. The NPS Board of Education will meet for its next regular meeting on Tuesday, June 12th, at 5:30 pm in the Nome Elementary School library.

Image at top: City Council members discuss Nome Public Schools’ budget for the upcoming school year with the Nome Board of Education (photo: Gabe Colombo, KNOM).