The Juneau School District will have nearly $1.2 million more than it had previously thought thanks to changes the Legislature made, so on Tuesday night the school board approved an amended budget that included all six of its “add-backs.”
With the $1.2 million add-backs, however, there were still more than $4 million in cuts that stayed cut, and some last-minute advocating for specific positions to be kept. Ultimately, the board unanimously approved the amended budget with the initially proposed add-backs.
These items were restored:
• 3.53 Full Time Equivalent positions for cultural paraprofessional educators for $233,500.
• .5 FTE elementary specialists at each school, for 3 FTE positions combined for $291,300. This particular add-back should preserve the Juneau, Alaska Music Matters violin program at Glacier Valley Elementary, for example.
• Re-lowering the Pupil-to-Teacher Ratio for all schools by .5. This adds back 4 FTE positions for $388,400.
• Re-lowering the PTR by another .5 at all schools. This would add back one FTE position for $97,105.
• Keeping the additional school counselor at both middle schools for $194,200. The position will be modified to support vocational preparation instead of drug and alcohol curriculum because of the funding source. The legislature funded more money for vocational technical programing, which can apply to middle schools. The district will spend some of those funds on career education supplies.
“One of the things we’ve been trying to strengthen for some time is the career tech for middle schools,” said Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich. “Understanding what career options there are to workforce learning and broadening the awareness at the middle school level. There is an opportunity to feed in to the career tech options in the high school.”
• Maintain the voluntary drug testing contract at the high schools for $45,000.
These additions amount to 13.53 FTE positions of the 66 the district cut.
District Administrative Services Director David Means explained the changes the Legislature made, and what it meant for the district.
Means said that the Legislature passed Senate Bill 182, which significantly changed funding for the district’s budget and the city’s budget.
Means said it increases pupil transportation funding, increases vocational education in the Foundation Program from 1.01 to 1.015 and changes the required local funding to 2.65 mills of assessed value. He said the Legislature also approved one-time funding of $25 million to be shared across all school districts.
The school board will meet with the city Finance Committee on May 2 to discuss the changes.
Changes in the mill rate mean that the state will pick up the tab for $2 million of the city’s share of the district’s funding. How that affects the city’s budgetary concerns wasn’t clear.
Board member Barbara Thurston called for an amendment which would have swapped out the PTR add-back worth 1 FTE for the art specialist position that was cut. She garnered the support of Board member Mark Choate, however the motion for the amendment ultimately failed 5-2. Other board members said they valued the arts, but lowering already-large class sizes was a bigger concern.
“Across the district we have a problem with our PTR,” Gelbrich said. “I don’t intend to be smug here. While the Legislature acted and we really are grateful they acted, we have not resolved the school funding issue. That said, one school will not get the relief some of the other schools are getting if we move this position into a specialist position.”
The district has been advocating for not only increased funding per the Base Student Allocation, but funding the BSA a few years out so district’s can better plan to their funding levels.
Board member Kim Poole said that throughout the site council meetings she’s been too, the biggest concern from the teachers and other staff isn’t as much about the support staff and programming, but the sizes to which the classes are growing.
“We already know our funding is going to be cut next year,” Poole said. “I think we’re going to keep coming back to this issue year after year. We’re going to add a different subject each year (to the cut list). This year its art, nursing, administration. I don’t know how long we can continue to keep preserving positions on a one-year basis. That haunts me. It also haunts me because it leaves me having to figure out which I value more of all the things we could put back in.”
Choate argued that they needed a new method for calculating PTR as there is technically one staff member for every eight students. He said that cutting the support staff also has an impact on the ability for a teacher to handle the class size.
Choate said they’ve made the decisions that these support staff are necessary and needed to help teachers do the best job they can.
Board member Sean O’Brien said it is a difficult decision and one that’s not clear cut, but he had to support the PTR reduction.
During public testimony, members of the JSD staff advocated for retaining the two nursing positions that were cut, the truancy officer position and the art specialist, along with holding off on funding add-backs because of a grievance filed by the Juneau School Administration Association.
LuAnn Powers, Auke Bay nurse, said that there is a lot of concern over the remaining cuts of two nurses since there is one month left of school and still no plan for how the nurses will work out being in at least several of the schools less.
Deb Morse, member of the JSAA, said they have 23 members and have filed a grievance on Feb. 23 concerning the reassignment of three members. There is a hearing before a panel of board members on Wednesday. She said that for the school board to not consider the potential financial impacts of the grievance would mean the board has already dismissed the grievance before the hearing.
• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.