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Harborview parents press school board for extra teacher

Several show up to speak at special meeting

Posted: October 3, 2012 - 4:21pm  |  Updated: October 4, 2012 - 12:11am

When the Juneau School District Board of Education met at noon Wednesday, it was in considerably smaller confines than the setting of their regular meetings.

That did not faze more than half a dozen members of the public, most of them parents at Harborview Elementary School, who showed up to ask the board to consider allocating funds for an additional primary teacher at Harborview, right next door to the JSD Central Office, where the special meeting was held.

Some sat and some stood as the parents, one by one, powered through their two minutes of time apiece.

Harborview has the highest primary pupil-to-teacher ratio, or PTR, in the school district — a distinction held by Riverbend Elementary School prior to last month, when the school board approved funding for an additional teacher there.

The Harborview advocates largely praised the board’s decision to authorize the hiring of a new teacher at Riverbend, but they said Harborview should receive a new teacher as well.

“We applaud the Juneau school board for its budgetary decision and quick policy action to lower Riverbend’s unacceptably high PTR despite severe budgetary constraints, and we also applaud their implicit recognition that even with a highly effective teacher, there is a line, a point at which the sheer number of students in a class greatly diminishes teacher effectiveness,” said Marie Marx, a member of the Harborview site council.

Marx added, “On the basis of fairness and equity, we request that the Juneau school board treat Harborview the same as other elementary schools in the district, and find and allocate funds for a primary teacher at Harborview.”

Both Marx and fellow Harborview parent Lisa Oliver cited Auke Bay Elementary School as a contrast with Harborview.

“Auke Bay has 170 primary grade students and eight teachers. Harborview has 175 primary grade students and seven teachers,” said Marx. “More kids at Harborview, and less teachers.”

Oliver acknowledged that the school district is facing “tough times,” having gone through extensive budget-cutting that is expected to continue at least into next year in order to address its difficult financial situation.

But in the case of allocating another teacher for Harborview, Oliver argued, “It can’t be about the money, because you found it for Auke Bay, you found it for Riverbend.”

“This would be a lot easier to swallow if we felt that it was across the board,” Oliver said.

Kurt Iverson, another parent at the meeting, said he believes it would be possible for the school district to rearrange the budget and find the funding for another primary teacher at his children’s school.

“I think the money is there. In a $77 million operating budget, the $100,000 or less for a teacher is there,” Iverson contended. “Now, everyone knows that the money is available, but I think everyone also knows that the money currently is fully allocated, or close to it. But I think that, with careful work by (David) Means, who’s a very experienced, very accomplished man, and the superintendent, and their staff, they can find a way to move those allocations around.”

Means, who attended the meeting Wednesday, is the JSD’s director of administrative services.

Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich was also present. He did not speak during the meeting, but afterward, he said that while he and others are “concerned” that the district has “quite a number of classes that are much larger … than we would want them to be,” he does not see how the district can address the issue at this time.

“The amount of resources available to change that are very, very limited,” Gelbrich said. “I don’t know of a resource that we can use to add additional staffing.”

Sally Saddler, president of the school board, thanked those who offered public comment and said the board is considering placing the issue on its Oct. 16 regular meeting agenda. She also acknowledged the receipt of a letter from the Harborview site council, which the group agreed to draft and send at a special meeting last month (http://bit.ly/QQTIPL), and said a reply would be forthcoming.

“It is under consideration, and we’ll be getting a letter back out just as soon as a decision has been made,” said Saddler.

The purpose of the special meeting was to hold a final reading on a lease agreement with GE Government Finance, Inc., to finance a contract with Enterasys Secure Networks that the board authorized in August to overhaul the JSD’s network infrastructure (http://bit.ly/WlsIbS), which Means called a “technical correction.”

“They’re providing the financial part to the lease there, and their attorneys looked at the motion that the board made and said, ‘Well, wait a minute. We want our name on the motion, not Enterasys,’ because technically the lease is with GE Government Finance,” Means explained. “Enterasys will be providing the same services that we talked to the school board about in August.”

The lease agreement, worth up to $500,000 over five years at up to 4.05 percent interest, was unanimously approved on a motion by board member Phyllis Carlson, who just won reelection in Tuesday’s municipal election.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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