Dunleavy's intransigence may force massive school district layoffs across Alaska

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s bungling of the state education budget continues.

With the latest Dunleavy directive, school districts across Alaska may have to lay off thousands of employees in June and July because they won’t have money to pay their bills. Blame this needless and pointless fight on intransigence at the top.

It’s a foolish standoff, one that comes after Dunleavy failed to convince legislators or the public that Alaska needs to cut hundreds of millions from schools to improve education.

The school districts need to have cash to pay for health care benefits in July and August and many will have a hard time doing so if Dunleavy does what he says he is going to do. Layoffs would be the only option.

The Legislature appropriated the money to fund schools a year ago, but Dunleavy says he will ignore the law. Attorney General Kevin Clarkson has invented an argument that the law is illegal. Anyone can claim that a law is illegal, but the courts make that determination.

State lawyers and legislators a year ago saw no legal problems. Legislative lawyers say the law is fine, as do most legislators. Even the Dunleavy adminstration raised no constitutional objections early this year.

The governor had his staff tell legislators Tuesday that funds for school districts will not be distributed July 15, which leaves few alternatives for the districts but to order widespread layoffs.

He has had his education commissioner send emails to all superintendents and principals urging them to lobby the Legislature, an inappropriate tactic that school officials should resist. Dunleavy should not be using state resources this way.

“The attorney general has previously communicated to the Legislature that ‘unless the Legislature appropriates education funding for FY20, there will be no lawful appropriation for education funding for that year,” the education commissioner said in a lobbying pitch to school officials Monday, asking them to testify.

There is a lawful appropriation, contrary to that claim.

One of the major flaws in the Dunleavy strategy is that his administration accepted this forward-funding plan in documents submitted to legislators earlier this year and did not mention any constitutional objections.

Lawyers in the Department of Law last year did not raise questions about House Bill 287, the measure that includes funding for public schools starting this July.

“The amount to fully fund the FY2020 Foundation Program funded through the Public Education Fund was appropriated in Sec 4 Ch 6 SLA2018 P5 L13 (HB287); however, the FY2020 Governor's Amended budget reflects a $269,396.9 reduction to the Foundation Program,” the governor’s budget office said in a Feb. 13 report.

It was after legislative objections solidified that the constitutional claim surfaced.

Many school districts are reported to be making contingency plans now for June and July layoffs.

Dermot Cole4 Comments