Superintendent’s Corner

November 14, 2019

Dear IDEA Families:

On this day in November of 1889, newspaper reporter Nellie Bly left New York City in an attempt to circumnavigate the globe faster than fictitious character Phileas Fogg had in Jules Verne’s 1873 novel Around the World in 80 Days. The earth’s circumference is 24,901 miles. Ms. Bly returned 72 days later to fanfare for her record-breaking pre-aviation voyage. About a month ago, a Quantas Airways Dreamliner left New York City’s JFK airport for the longest commercial flight ever. 19 ½ hours and 10,100 miles later, the jet landed in Sydney, Australia. As Bob Dylan might have said … “The Times They Are a-Changin’.”

Speaking of change closer to home … first, celebration of GCSD enrollment growth is in order. September 30 to October 25 was the critical “count period” for school funding for all Alaskan districts. This four-week window determines each district’s Average Daily Membership (ADM). GCSD submitted our district enrollment summary on November 7, 2019 with a total enrollment of 5,164 for this school year. This 321 above last school year constitutes 6.2% in enrollment growth from the 2018-19 school year. While many factors play into this significant enrollment increase, GCSD’s continued customer service emphasis … always providing our partner stakeholders exceptional service … remains a critical piece of GCSD success. GCSD knows that parents/guardians can choose any one of a host of educational options across Alaska. GCSD strives for each GCSD employee to give 100% effort while helping our parents/guardians and our students succeed in the educational scenario that best works for that family. Kudos to the entire GCSD family for our healthy partnerships that contribute to our continued growth.

Second, GCSD is beginning our budget preparations for the 2020-21 school year. The GCSD Budget Review Committee plans to reconvene its work starting in December. During this upcoming budget planning cycle for the 2020-21 school year, GCSD will need to continue to account for inexorable inflationary increases. For example, the Galena Education Association and GCSD have recently entered into a tentative three-year Collective Bargaining Agreement that will increase expenses for certificated employees if approved. As stated above, GCSD’s enrollment has grown substantially during the last year. However, the additional monies the district will receive for our increased enrollment may not completely address the increased costs that the district is expecting to incur. We will all need to be proactive in our financial planning to ensure that the district remains fiscally sound.

Third, GCSD plans to follow closely the spring legislative session, which is predicted, once again, to be a precarious session for educational funding. In particular, GCSD will lobby the legislature for some monies for the Department of Education and Early Development’s Major Maintenance and School Construction Priority Lists. GCSD understands Alaska’s current fiscal conundrum; however, annually addressing some of these major maintenance and school construction issues ultimately saves monies because of inflationary realities on deferred projects. On Tuesday, November 5, 2019 Alaska’s Department of Education & Early Development published its FY21 Capital Improvement Projects Major Maintenance Grant funding priority rankings. Out of 102 ranked projects from school districts across Alaska, GCSD’s Composite building renovation project on the GILA campus ranked #2 with $4,946,648 in state funding and $260,350 in matching GCSD funds. This is the second year that the Composite project ranked #2. This year’s #1 ranked project (a roof & structural project for the Pribilof School District) is a new project this year. This $1,896,395 #1 ranked project scored much higher than all other of the 102 major maintenance projects because of the age of the facility. Last year the legislature needed to provide 12.3 million in major maintenance funding for our Composite renovation to get funded; this year the legislature will only need to fund $6.85 million for GCSD’s project to get funded. The odds are better for us this year; however, fingers still crossed and GCSD will still lobby for major maintenance funding. Since we will not know until the end of the 2020 legislative session (traditionally late April/early May) about this funding, I do not foresee work to start on this until the spring/summer of 2021.

In closing, GCSD delights to serve all of our new and returning families and students. Please contact me at the phone number above or the email address below if you would like to discuss any aspect of this letter in greater detail or if you would like more information on any district initiative. I welcome any opportunity to visit in depth about the exciting work that we are doing within our district.

Respectfully yours,

Jim Merriner, GCSD Superintendent