Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration has said that the state will stop funding school districts if the state legislature does not pass a budget by July 1. Superintendent Dan Walker talked about how that impacts the Lower Kuskokwim School District’s plans.
Walker says that he’s ignoring the governor’s remarks about blocking funding for local school districts.
“As far as school districts are considered, they believe a budget has been passed,” Walker said. “It was passed by forward funding last year.”
Walker believes that the courts will agree that last year’s forward funding of education was legal, so LKSD is operating as though it has state funding for next year. Walker said that if he were wrong, then “at some point, schools would have to shut down.”
The state’s budget impasse is also affecting the district’s ability to hire teachers for next year.
As Walker says, “[teachers] look at Alaska and see the pressure that we have on our budget and they’re like, 'Why would I want to go to Alaska and teach?'"
That’s adding onto an already difficult climate for recruiting teachers to Alaska.
“Salaries in the lower 48 for educators have gone up,” Walker explained.
Walker also says that the state’s changes to teachers’ retirement plans in 2005 have been unpopular among those he’s trying to recruit.
“The state retirement situation for teachers is not in a good spot,” Walker says, “It’s not attractive to people.”
This could help explain why Walker has to hire almost 100 new teachers for the next school year. He still has 20 to 30 of those positions left to fill. On Friday, he headed to a teacher hiring conference to fight that uphill battle; hiring enough teachers for the next school year will be one of Walker’s last missions as LKSD’s superintendent.
“I’ve been working in LKSD for 28 years,” Walker said. “I started as a teacher in Quinhagak, my wife and I. She retired this year, and then next year is my last year.”
Walker announced his retirement a year prior so that the district could build a succession plan. He hopes to find another homegrown superintendent, someone who knows what it means to educate students in this region of Western Alaska.