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JSD, city talk about school budget proposals at joint meeting

Posted: March 14, 2012 - 11:10pm

While the Juneau School District is advocating for a better budget process, it did tell the City and Borough of Juneau that if the Legislature does approve more funding, the district will not seek additional funds from the city this year.

The school board and the city Assembly met in a joint session Wednesday night.

Both entities are facing deficits, with the school district projected to lose the equivalent of 66 full time positions due to a $5.8 million deficit. The city is forecasting a $7.5 million deficit of its own over the next two fiscal years.

While the district still has until the end of this month to submit its budget to the Assembly, Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich and Director of Administrative Services David Means told the Assembly what they end up submitting to the city will be all it will ask for this year. The city has traditionally funded the school district to the maximum capacity it is allowed. If the Legislature does enact a bill approving a Base Student Allocation increase, that would also increase the amount the school district can ask for from the city.

“We would not come to you with a higher figure,” Means said. “This is the figure that we will stay with.”

Means said they will continue asking for the city to pay additional monies outside the cap for pupil transportation, high school activities and community schools initiatives, similar to years prior.

As the discussion continued Wednesday evening, several school board members said none of these cuts are things they want to do. Board member Kim Poole said the cuts can be envisioned as filling up an entire school bus with staff, then several more with all their family members, then the line of moving trucks behind them loading them all onto a ferry.

Assembly Member Jesse Kiehl asked why they wouldn’t come back to the city and ask for additional funding to the new cap, should the legislature approve extra funds.

Gelbrich said that wasn’t a board decision, but an administrative decision because of how broken the budgeting process is. Gelbrich said when he first arrived, the Legislature had forward funded school funding for three years, so districts could better plan their budgets and have a good idea of what funding comes through. By law, the Juneau School District must have its budget submitted to the Assembly by March 31. The Legislature has not been forward-funding education, but instead the past few years has been doing a legislative dance of last-minute funding decisions for the upcoming school year. That means the JSD has had to come back in late April, readjust its budget based on what has been one-time funding approvals from the Legislature, and resubmit it to the Assembly. The Assembly then needs to readjust its budget based on those shifts.

Gelbrich said one thing the district has been advocating for is for forward funding education so that if funding levels adjust up or down, districts can better plan for what’s important and the budgeting process can be a lot more transparent.

“That would be a community process that is less involved because we’re making fewer changes because we’re planning for the long term,” he said. “Right now, the budget process consumes a large amount of administrative time. That gets us turned away from the real work, which is what’s happening in classrooms. In the long run, we will look at establishing the budgets for schools out further, which is hard because we don’t know what the funding level is going to be or the fuel costs. If we could look two to three years down the road, that would be great.”

Gelbrich said the way the budgeting process works now, is the community and staff get a false hope that these cuts aren’t really going to happen — because the Legislature could come through at the last minute and bring back those jobs, those programs. Gelbrich said that ultimately, that method teaches people to be cynical about budgeting.

“I think the community would appreciate a little more predictability about our programs long term,” he said.

Gelbrich said the timeline in the budgets is “screaming to be fixed.” He said the district wants to not be presumptuous in asking the city for additional funds based on fluctuating legislative decisions.

“You’re trying to set a budget, we’re trying to set a budget,” he said. “We wouldn’t seek an adjustment in the year the Legislature came in late. We would likely see the adjustment the following year. That can be up for discussion. ... It’s not that we wouldn’t welcome the increase in funding. It was our conversation about trying to be sensitive to the timing of getting budgets solidified for the continuity of the organizations. It’s kind of ‘when do the bumper cars stop bouncing off of each other?’”

Gelbrich also said the school district will be moving away from getting one-time grant funds and spending those dollars on creating programs or hiring staff. He said that instead, one-time grant funds will be spent on things like professional development.

One of the parts of the budget is an addition of about $1 million into the district’s general fund. The bulk of the additions are things that were previously grant funded — including about 13 positions.

Mayor Bruce Botelho also asked what the district thought of Anchorage School District’s decision to pull out of state standards and go with the national core and how that would influence Juneau.

“I think we made that announcement almost two years ago over the then — very wanting state standards,” Gelbrich said. “We did that, with a little less fanfare, a little more than two years ago. ... Having said that, the state is working on their standards to bring them up. We still see a fair gap in a number of places where standards are being developed statewide (between the national core). I would — the board hasn’t acted on this — I would fully endorse what Anchorage is doing because of what we have done.”

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

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