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School funding talks continue on local, state levels

Nurses make a comeback in JSD's budget process

Posted: February 15, 2012 - 12:03am

With all the feedback the Juneau School District got on the proposal to change six of 10 school nurses to “health assistants” the administration ditched the idea on Tuesday.

Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich presented the budget committee — comprised of board members, citizens and education union representatives — with a revised budget proposal prepared by the cabinet.

One of the biggest changes was a move away from replacing six of 10 school nurses with “health assistants.” Instead, there will still be some reworking of how nursing services are provided at the schools and two nurse positions will be cut.

Gelbrich said how nurses will be assigned among the facilities will be up to the nurses and Director of Student Services Brad Hoyt.

Gelbrich said this proposal comes from the fact that not all schools have high-intensity medically-fragile students.

“Allocation of nurse time would be commensurate with two factors: level of intense need and just sheer volume or enrollment,” he said.

Board Member Andi Story asked for more clarification on how nurses would be utilized. She didn’t see how a nurse would be able to go to another school part-time if two schools had at least one medically-fragile student. Gelbrich said how much a medically-fragile student needs a nurse depends entirely upon the student and his or her condition. Some students only need a nurse on hand for a portion of the day. Other students may need a nurse available the duration of the day. That’s why the plan would be to have nurses and Hoyt collaborate at least yearly on how to best meet the needs of the students.

The other change Gelbrich made to the proposed budget was that instead of outright cutting $30,000 of funding for “at-risk” students’ music programs ($5,000 per elementary school), the funding will be used from the activities fund.

There were no other significant changes to the proposal, however the list of “add-backs” was prioritized.

One key clarification brought up through questions by Board Member Sally Saddler was on Pupil-to-Teacher Ratios. The district has actually slated a total PTR increase of 2.0 across all grade levels. How the process got unclear is that each 1.0 of PTR is listed as a separate budget line. The first PTR increase is estimated to save $874,000 (nine full-time equivalent positions). The second PTR increase cuts $485,000 (five FTE). The second PTR increase is on the list of add-backs. The part that wasn’t inherently clear is that the add-backs are a part of the cut list, and do not appear elsewhere on the entire list of budget cuts. If the district’s revenue projections do not increase (no legislative funding increases, extra grants, etc.) then the PTR for kindergarten will be 23 students per teacher; grades 3-5 will be 27.5 students per teacher; middle school 24.5; high school 29.25.

Teachers testified at prior meetings that with the current PTR two notches lower, they already have 30 students in their classroom at the 25.5 PTR. One of their fears is that increasing PTR again will mean their classes will hit even higher numbers.

The PTR add-back — or one point of it — is third on the list of priority add-backs. First is adding back cultural para educators for $233,000 for 3.53 positions. Second is adding back elementary specialist allocations at the schools for 3.0 FTEs for $291,000.

Gelbrich pointed out that just those three add-backs are about $1 million. The two other add-backs, in order, are middle school counselors for 2.0 FTE for $194,000 and the drug testing contract at the high schools for $45,000.

Committee members mostly asked clarifying questions about other cuts Tuesday night. Committee Chairwoman Barbara Thurston said she would like to have the committee have a general consensus at next week’s meeting on the proposed cuts, but said she is not in favor of calling for a vote.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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