PALMER – Mat-Su Borough School District Superintendent Dr. Randy Trani provided an update on school numbers at the School Board meeting on Wednesday. Though the district had projected over 19,200 students in schools this year, students are showing up at school in numbers much lower than projections. However, one number is staying the same. During his enrollment report, Dr. Trani reported that about 65 percent of MSBSD students are attending schools for in-person instruction, a number which has not changed in the two weeks since school opened. A total of 17,836 students are enrolled in MSBSD schools with 11,604 at school, 2,888 participating in at-home learning and 3,344 in correspondence courses. Only three schools remain in ‘yellow’ status in regards to COVID-19 infection. The schools are Meadow Lakes Elementary, Tanaina Elementary and Palmer High School which identified a positive case on Monday and reopened to in-person instruction on Wednesday. Dr. Trani also provided a statistic that only 2.2 percent of all possible student contact days have been prohibited due to COVID-19, closures. Depending on what the result of the 20-day count conducted of students in schools in October is, MSBSD may be eligible for funding through the hold harmless provision.
“The good news is that we do have a hold harmless provision,” said Assistant Superintendent of Business Operations Luke Fulp. “We will be eligible for this hold harmless provision and it will help support our operating funds in the current year.”
The hold harmless provision was enacted in 2008 to support schools with declining enrollment and is based on the average daily membership of a school district’s attendance. If the ADM decreases by five percent or more from one year to the next, the school district may use the last fiscal year before the decrease as a base to offset the decrease. On a conference call with the State Board of Education and Early Development, Fulp learned that the Commissioner of Education must follow statute but is examining what funds must be provided as the hold harmless provision was not designed for a pandemic. The Department of Education has provided a new classification for at-home learners to prevent school district’s from losing out on a larger majority of their students. School funding from the state of Alaska has remained flat over the last five years with a stagnant Base Student Allocation of $5,930. Currently, MSBSD schools are attended at a rate 11.6 percent lower than last year’s attendance of 19,425. Without additional funding from the BSA, Fulp hopes that the hold harmless provision can help balance MSBSD operating funds in the meantime.
“We don’t even see the prospect of this number increasing with the state’s financial picture. In fact if anything it may go down,” said Fulp.