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Public speaks out about proposed JSD budget cuts

60 percent of school nurses cut, cultural para educators face cuts

Posted: January 24, 2012 - 10:33pm  |  Updated: January 25, 2012 - 1:03am

School nurses play a vital role in emergency care for students and as a long-term connection between students, parents and schools.

Para educators offer vital assistance to teachers with large class sizes and a growing number of students with special needs.

Juneau’s few auditoriums serve as venues to operas, symphonies and other public performances.

All of these services proved important enough for Juneau’s citizens to come and ask the Budget Committee to spare. All of these services are currently on the cutting block.

Alaska’s Base Student Allocation, the formula used to fund education, received no increase in Gov. Sean Parnell’s 2012 budget. The allocation is particularly valuable to districts because they get to control how it is spent.

However Parnell recently hinted that he may offer a one-time boost to educational funding.

The Juneau School District Board Budget Committee is pushing ahead with public comment on the possibility that between $4 million and $6 million, 66 hired positions, could be cut from the 2013 budget. Many of the cuts would hit administration, classroom sizes and other programming.

At the previous Budget Committee meeting Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich said the budget could “seriously undermine our progress.”

Gelbrich denied claims that the District had somehow over-budgeted bringing on the cuts.

“The idea that something was over-budgeted is a misnomer,” Gelbrich said. “The fact that the budget was under spent allowed us a very limited carry over. We are living closer to the bone than most school districts are. If we thought we have money to fund the model, we ‘d fund it.”

Gelbrich said the number of cuts required this year make meeting the cuts through attrition unlikely this year.

“We don’t think this budget thing is over,” Gelbrich said.

Dionne Cadiente-Laiti, executive director of the Goldbelt Heritage Foundation, said she addresses historical trauma caused by a western education system. The trauma stems from boarding schools punishing native language speaking in Alaska.

Her Foundation works with cultural para educators in the schools and supports the program through grants. She said the work cultural para educators do to share the Tlingit language with all students is a right.

“It is about justice,” Cadiente-Laiti said. “My belief is that this is a right, an inherent right. That our traditional education system be in our school district. I’m not asking, I’m saying it is a right.”

Suzanne Dutson apologetically suggested placing salary caps on teachers to maintain funding for school nurses to provide care for her hemophiliac nephews and other ADA children.

Jenny Molecha’s five-year-old son is about to start school. He has type one diabetes and needs possible emergency care. On a challenging day her son’s blood sugar can spike out of the safe range. A registered nurse in every school is necessary, Monica said. “Please do not cut the budget.”

The reduction of an auditorium manager position could limit use to a single venue at a time, said Laura Hayward of the Juneau Lyric Opera.

“Our high school auditoriums are very important to us for opera, theater and dance,” She said.

Bruce Simonson agreed and said the school district runs the risk of alienating support in the community and of looking like a poor steward of cultural facilities.

Superintendent Gelbrich said a model with one manager and skilled assistants could allow for simultaneous auditorium use.

McKenna Lovejoy, a fourth-grade student at Glacier Valley Elementary, asked the Committee to spare her teacher’s job.

“She does such a good job and what does she get for it? The loss of a job. She has made us a better school. I am terribly upset at this. [Her class] helps us love school.”

Cultural Para Educator Glenda Lindley of Glacier Valley Elementary has worked in the district for 21 years. She said she has watched many budget negotiations and knows the committee has a tough job. However, she said she was dismayed at the cuts to the district’s cultural para educators.

“We have three-and-a-half positions cut and that is criminal,” Lindley said. “I beg you to all take a day off and come to a school, don’t pick Wednesday, that's a nice day, pick a Monday. Come and see what we do, see what the nurses do.”

Lindley is also the union representative of her school. As president, she said teachers could not get anything done without paras in their classrooms. Classrooms have a rising rate of students with special needs. She said the cuts were “outrageous. You can’t take away our para educators.”

The Committee will discuss revisions to the budget at its next meeting on Jan. 31 at Juneau-Douglas High School. Revisions could include the prioritization of what to put back in the budget and what to take out. There will be public comment.

Public questions can be submitted by email to budgetinput@jsd.k12.ak.us.

This article has been changed to correct the spelling of Suzanne Dutson's name, and to reflect the fact Glenda Lindley is the union representative at her school.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

 

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