Why I Voted Against the Anchorage School District Budget

By Dave Donley, Anchorage School Board Member

At the February 20 Anchorage School Board meeting, I voted against the proposed Anchorage School District FY19 operating budget and a new six-year capital plan. After four years of essentially flat funding and budget reductions, I agree with other board members that the ASD is being forced to make very difficult spending choices. The District is faced with a $13 million shortfall for next year. As a new member on the School Board, my budget goals have been and continue to be prioritization of what the public identified as its top priorities.

In 2017, the ASD surveyed our community and the top two priorities were keeping class sizes low and making sure schools were clean and safe. At the February 20 meeting I proposed amendments to better focus on those priorities but my amendments failed.

I disagree with the way raises were recently given to exempt executive-level employees. I have consistently voted against action items that authorized or funded those executive salary increases. While I acknowledge the arguments supporting those raises, and that overall spending on executive salaries has been reduced, I do not support making those salary increases all at once at this time.

I proposed an amendment to roll back a portion of those salary increases but it failed.

I disagree with prioritizing administrators over the people who keep the sidewalks safe and the schools sanitary, and over the classroom teachers. I do not want to tell parents, “You can have safe schools and sidewalks or you can have teachers, but not both.” In this budget we get less of both.

I proposed an amendment (consistent with the 2017 Community Survey results cited earlier) that would have restored a portion of the reductions to teachers and custodians by using funding gained from reducing the number of administrators. This amendment would have also reduced the use of school district savings to balance the budget which is currently planned to be $4 million.

I also disagree with the amount of bond money that is being used–not for construction of needed deferred major maintenance but instead for the salaries of the planning department employees. Yes, the staff of the district’s planning department is paid from school bonds. A recent review by a national school organization identified the ASD construction project planning overhead as excessive.

The ‘soft’ costs of designing and engineering ASD capital projects approximate 30 percent of total project cost (with 70 percent going to actual construction), which appears to be high based on the team’s experience. Specifically, architectural costs for ASD projects appear to be almost double industry standards. For example, based on the 2014 CGCS KPI reporting project –
The district reported its Design-to-Construction Cost Ratio at 22.6 percent for major maintenance projects, compared to a median of 7.1 percent among CGCS districts.
The district reported its Design-to-Construction Cost Ratio at 25.0 percent for renovation projects, compared to a median of 12.6 percent among CGCS districts.
The district did not report its Design-to-Construction Cost Ratio for new construction projects; however, staff estimated it to be between 15 and 20 percent, compared to a median of 8.2 percent among CGCS districts.
Review of the Facilities Operations of the Anchorage School District
December 2014 by Council of Great City Schools

I proposed an amendment to instead use more of those funds toward the actual construction of needed deferred maintenance projects like roofs and fire suppression systems but it failed.

The six-year capital plan proposed by ASD’s administration and adopted by the board at the February 20 meeting is in direct conflict with adopted board guidance adopted March 7, 2016 of prioritizing deferred major maintenance and not doing major school remodels. The new plan does exactly the opposite and spends more than twice as much for major school remodels as deferred maintenance like roofs and safety code upgrades. It also anticipates raising property taxes in future years about three times as much as this year’s bond proposal does.

I proposed an amendment to make the new six-year plan more consistent with the current official board guidance and hold down property taxes but the amendment failed.

Overall the school board and the administration have made significant positive steps toward making the current budget much more efficient than past years with many positive reforms. I believe all are people of good will with the interest of our children as their top priority. I simply felt more should have been done to focus on the priorities the public identified and to hold down property taxes.

This communication is from Dave Donley as an individual member of the Anchorage School Board and does not represent the position of the Anchorage School Board or the Anchorage School District.