The proposed budget for Juneau School District is moving along to the board, with a general consensus of add-backs and adjustments.
The Budget Committee met for its last session on Tuesday night, hearing public testimony in favor of retaining .5 Full Time Equivalent elementary specialist positions, the truancy officer and a few other positions. The committee spent about an hour and a half of its remaining time hearing member proposals on what to keep, what to cut, and what to switch around as a priority for an add-back if additional funding becomes available.
Ultimately, committee chairwoman Barbara Thurston, who also is a school board member, decided that she would not have the committee vote the proposed budget and amendments up or down. Instead the committee members discussed what they’d like to see changed, and there were several overlaps. The proposed budget and the items that had a general majority consensus will be discussed at the school board’s March 6 meeting. It is slated to make a final decision March 26.
Several changes had support — at least for more investigation. Committee member Brian Holst suggested adding more items to the “add-back” list, which contains five items. Most of his suggestions would be placed in the “six plus” list, where they would come after the initial proposal. Holst suggested adding back the budget for educational leadership, AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) and intervention programs for Riverbend Elementary, and adding one of the Extended Learning (EL) positions (putting that suggestion as add-back priority No. 3). He suggested moving the Pupil-to-Teacher-Ratio add-back (currently No. 3) to No. 5 since it is one of the largest fiscal retentions. IN order to pay for the proposed additions, Holst suggested scaling back the technology refresh cycle funds proposed in the “additions” section of the budget.
Committee members appeared to be largely supportive of adding back one position to the EL program. The reasoning is that that position will serve fifth grade advanced math, which theoretically means more students enter high school ready to take higher level math courses.
Committee member Richard Monkman said the retention of that one EL position would be a “quantum leap” of a difference in the quality of the remaining program.
Board member Mark Choate said he has concerns about anything that cuts a music program or academic support. Choate suggested cutting the activities travel budget. He was a huge proponent of getting more funding for activities, however he said the mission of the district is to educate children, not necessarily fly them around Southeast.
“I bet if we cut the entire travel budget this community would find a way to pay for it,” Choate said. “I am comfortable we can work with community groups to offer those.”
He said the sports and activities budget is more than $1 million. Instead of the district (and city contribution) what isn’t paid for by booster clubs and Alaska Airline miles would have to be made up by bake-offs, raffles and other fund-raising efforts Choate said.
“They are things I’d prefer not to do, but would rather do than cut EL or music,” he said.
Choate also proposed cutting the transportation budget by $500,000.
“We would need a proposal from First Students that provides transportation for 2.5 million,” he said. “There are places where we can be more aggressive or which the community can come up with other resources that can maintain some of the existing programs.”
Committee member Laurie Berg agreed with the travel budget sentiment. She said she’s tried looking into that budget before and has found inefficiencies in the way the district has schools manage it.
Committee member Rebecca Braun suggested adding back one EL position and the art specialist position. She said the two positions are part of programs that have a broad reach across the entire district and that cutting them would mean the programs would lose their effectiveness.
To pay for those, she suggested making cuts in the Next Generation plan, delay AVID’s expansion, cut fuel costs by 5 percent, slightly reduce the activities budget and reduce some funding for school climate.
Braun also favored adding back para educator’s time and the two nurse positions. Choate said he was uncomfortable with the para educator cut, because it means that most, if not all, para educators will become part-time employees instead of full-time employees. Other committee members shared that concern because it means a change in pay, benefits, retirement status, sick time and vacation time for a position that the district has historically had a difficult time hiring for and retaining.
Committee member Michael Heiman was supportive of retaining PTR, however he also suggested a proposal that would add back PTR in decimals. The system already is set up via decimals — for example one set of grade levels could have a PTR of 23.5. He suggested .3 and .5 PTR increases, so that if decreasing the PTR were possible at least in smaller portions, if not the full point, class sizes could still decrease.
Heiman also honed in on a proposal he made earlier on getting $700,000 to $900,000 additional funds for the district.
He suggested expanding Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School to include 7th- and 8th- grade. Heiman said if you asked any high school student, particularly the ones who struggle, what the most painful or awkward part of high school was the traditional classroom. He said that as a middle school teacher, he knows — along with nurses, counselors, teachers and principals which students need alternative environments.
“If there is some sort of philosophy behind on ‘no we don’t want to go down that low,’ to say we don’t want to catch the kids that soon, I don’t know what it is,” Heiman said.
If Yaakoosge had 175 or more students enrolled, it would be considered a “small school.” That designation gets it significantly more funding. Not only that designation, but there also is financial impact for students moving out of the middle schools and into Yaakoosge.
Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich said they are actively looking at it, but it’s not on the budget list because it’s not something they have completely figured out.
Throughout more member suggestions and comments, para educators, EL, and elementary specialists saw the largest margin of support.
• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at email@example.com.