Mat-Su Borough Assembly and staff in Willow on Thursday. (Photo: Phillip Manning – KTNA)On Thursday night, the Mat-Su Borough Assembly held it’s third and final public hearing on its annual budget at a special meeting in Willow.Listen nowNearly 70 people came out for the final public hearing on the Mat-Su Borough’s budget at the Willow Community Center. The majority of those who spoke focused on one line item, schools.Overall, the borough budget has shrunk by several million dollars, but the proposed level of funding for the Mat-Su Borough School District is the same as in last year’s budget. Over a dozen parents, teachers, and school administrators say that still isn’t enough.“Flat funding results in more cuts, to the tune of $3.4 million dollars, and fewer opportunities for our kids.” Talkeetna Elementary School Principal Lisa Shelby said. “What I’m asking of you will take courage, to put kids and families at the top of your list.”The district is asking the borough to cover that $3.4 million gap. In recent years, the Mat-Su Borough has met the requests from the school district for increased funding, but this year, members of the assembly say it simply isn’t possible.“Right now—for the amount of money that’s being asked for—I don’t see where it is, and I’ve been through the budget for a little bit.” Assembly Member Jim Sykes said. “There might be some, but I don’t want to give people false hopes on this count.”The reason Sykes and others say the money isn’t there is due to the borough’s revenue cap. Each year, the total amount the Mat-Su can raise in tax revenue has a ceiling based on population growth and the cost of living index for Anchorage. This year’s budget is at that cap. Assembly Member Randall Kowalke said that means it’s not a question of finding additional revenue.“So, if we take money and give it to the school, it’s coming from somewhere else,” Kowalke said.With the borough in a position where it cannot increase education funding without cutting elsewhere, Mayor Vern Halter believes it’s critical that the Alaska Legislature not carry through with a proposed five-percent cut to schools as proposed by the state Senate.“That’d be backwards. That would be the direction we don’t want to go,” Halter said. “They’re even talking about hitting some of the [Base] Student Allocation funding, which would be a backward step.” Halter added, “That would increase the debt of our school district by several million dollars more.”There is the possibility of some increase to school funding, though not the full amount being requested. Assembly Member Dan Mayfield said the school site selection fund, which currently has just under two million dollars in it, is not likely to be needed any time soon, and that the money could be moved to the school district’s operating budget. Mayfield said he plans to make an amendment to move those funds when the Assembly begins budget deliberations on Monday.