At a site council meeting for Harborview Elementary School Wednesday evening, members agreed to formally request that the Juneau School District administration allocate funding for an additional primary classroom teacher at the school.
Coordinator Brian Holst and fellow site council member Marie Marx acknowledged that they had made an informal request to that effect during a meeting Monday with Glenn Gelbrich, school district superintendent, and had been told there is no money in the budget to hire a new Harborview teacher.
But several site council members said the request should be formalized and repeated.
“I think there’s some value in saying, ‘We’ve had this conversation, we know it’s difficult, but here’s what the site council sees as best for Harborview,’” said council member and Harborview fourth-grade teacher Tom McKenna.
Harborview is dealing with class sizes larger than the approved pupil-to-teacher ratio of 22-to-1 for primary classes, kindergarten through second grade, and 26.5-to-1 for third, fourth and fifth-grade classes this school year.
The Juneau School District Board of Education responded to a similar situation at Riverbend Elementary School, which had two primary classes with 28 students apiece, by allocating funds to hire an additional teacher there last Tuesday. At that meeting, several board members, as well as Gelbrich, framed the issue as a tradeoff between risking a very low or even negative fund balance and continuing to have classes well over PTR at Riverbend.
“I think all of us that are dedicated to seeing student success were very pleased at school board for addressing the Riverbend high PTR,” Holst said. “But it also struck us here at Harborview that the difference between the high PTR at Riverbend and the high PTR at Harborview is very small and we expected similar treatment for us, our class sizes here at Harborview.”
The actual PTR at Riverbend was 25.6 students to a class prior to the school board meeting. At Harborview, based on the latest enrollment numbers from Wednesday, it is 24.9.
Dividing Harborview’s 174 primary students by the approved PTR of 22 yields 7.9, but the school only has seven teachers for primary classes.
The same formula for Riverbend prior to the meeting, using contemporary enrollment numbers, divided 130 students by 22 to produce 5.9. The school had five teachers before receiving approval to hire a sixth.
“When the district looked across the whole, all schools in Juneau and tried to determine who had the greatest impact … it was Riverbend, because they had two classes at 28 (students),” explained Sean O’Brien, one of two school board members attending the site council meeting Wednesday. “They did advocate, but that’s not why the decision was made at all. It was based on the formula and on the numbers.”
Laurie Berg, a former Harborview parent who asked the school board at its Sept. 11 meeting to add a teacher at Harborview, expressed dissatisfaction with that explanation during the public participation segment of the meeting.
“I’d like to disagree with Sean. You don’t know how the rest of the board would have voted the other night,” Berg said, addressing O’Brien. “I think if the Harborview principal, teachers and parents had been involved that night, there could have been a different vote.”
Berg added, “I have worked on PTR issues since before 2008, and this is the first time that I’ve ever seen a school get a teacher over another school if they’re in the same situation.”
“I appreciate the explanation of how we got where we are, but for me, the nuts and bolts is what remedy can you offer Harborview at this point for a situation which, by definition of your own PTR, is not acceptable?” Lisa Oliver, another public participant, asked O’Brien.
“Well, the money isn’t there,” O’Brien replied. “There’s no easy answer to that. Everybody’s trapped across the district.”
Despite O’Brien’s contention, council member Amy Lloyd motioned to formally request an additional teacher from the district.
“I understand that there is not a lot of money,” Lloyd said. “But I get a little sick of hearing there’s no money. If it’s a priority, let’s find it. It’s there. … We have a need for a teacher. And I’m sorry that the budget isn’t where it could be or should be or we want it to be, but we are a site council with a desperate need to add a teacher to our school.”
An amendment by Marx for Lloyd to draw up a more specific proposal for how a new teacher could be funded in the letter to the school board and superintendent was approved before the site council adopted Lloyd’s motion.
Another suggestion to reassign instructional coach Cherry Eckland or another member of Harborview’s support staff as a primary classroom teacher was eventually revised into a unanimously agreed motion to have Principal Dave Stoltenburg and Harborview staff look into the feasibility of that and other stopgap measures while the school’s primary classes remain above PTR.
Holst said the site council will work to submit the request for an additional teacher by the end of the month.
While Lloyd said she expects the JSD will deny the request, she urged the Harborview community to come out to reiterate the request at the school board’s next regular meeting on Oct. 16.
Lloyd said, “When they say, ‘No, we don’t have any money,’ I would like to recommend that we go … and read our letter yet again, and ask for parent testimony, and ask again for that teacher.”
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.