Faced with class sizes well above the districtwide target at Harborview Elementary School and a group of concerned parents clamoring for remedy, the Juneau School District Board of Education moved at its meeting Tuesday not to fund an additional teacher at the school from the district’s budget reserve, which is already below target for the year.
David Means, the JSD’s director of administrative services, set the tone for the grim discussion by presenting both the latest enrollment numbers for the district and the district’s estimated ending fund balance for fiscal year 2013.
While the targeted minimum ending fund balance for FY13 is $500,000, the district now looks to come in $169,000 short for an actual projected balance of $331,000.
At the same time, Harborview has an actual pupil-to-teacher ratio of 25 students to one teacher in its primary grades, or kindergarten through second grade. The target PTR for primary grades, as approved by the school board, is 22.
Brian Holst, facilitator of the Harborview site council, argued in a five-minute pitch to the board that Harborview merits funding for an additional teacher in spite of the district’s lean budget.
“Adding unnecessarily crowded classrooms in primary grade just adds to the challenges we face,” Holst said.
Several other members of the public offered similar testimony.
Kurt Iverson noted that in the previous three school years, the number of students has increased during the year.
“Enrollments go up every year,” Iverson said. “We’re at capacity right now, and it’ll probably get a little bit worse.”
Kindergarten teacher Kitty Eddy, who teaches at Harborview, said she “felt really compelled” to speak at the meeting.
“Hiring a new teacher, I think, is really a necessity and something that we need to look at for our children,” Eddy said.
Riverbend Elementary School, facing a similar situation as Harborview, received the school board’s approval to hire another teacher last month.
Carrie Macaulay, who was vocal in pushing for a new teacher at Riverbend, said another allocation of funding should be approved to add staff at Harborview.
“I first want to thank you on behalf of Riverbend for adding that teacher last month. We’ve already seen positive changes at our school with our new teacher in place,” Macaulay said. She continued, “I really want to encourage you all to think outside the box and come up with funding. Harborview needs this new teacher.”
Macaulay suggested that instructional coaches could, as has been done with school nurses (http://bit.ly/V5OIVH), be shared between certain schools in order to free up funding for a new teacher at Harborview.
Board President Sally Saddler acknowledged the difficulty of the situation.
“We do have a true challenge before us, and we have a very precarious budget,” Saddler said. She added, “As board members, we do have a responsibility and a stewardship to make sure that we don’t overspend our budget.”
Board member Barbara Thurston said she has been reviewing enrollment reports for the 2012-13 school year dating back to early August.
“I think there’s no question that Harborview should have gotten another teacher,” said Thurston. “I think Glacier Valley (Elementary School) and Mendenhall River (Community School) are both borderline.”
But Thurston pointed to the budget numbers that Means presented earlier in the evening. She said she “can’t in good conscience” recommend allocating more money from the budget reserve.
“I’m not sure what to do, but I really can’t recommend cutting into that $331,000,” Thurston said. “I just don’t think that would be a responsible thing.”
In response to Macaulay’s suggestion of looking at savings from the instructional coach program, Thurston said she has received positive feedback from teachers regarding the coaches.
“I’m not ready to recommend that we cut into it,” said Thurston.
Thurston and Andi Story agreed that the board should plan next year, during the budgeting process, for potential “bulges” in enrollment.
With Thurston and other board members declining to put forward a motion, Kim Poole made a motion that she acknowledged departed from the administration’s recommendation of “staying within the existing budget and the budget plan … (and) not hiring any additional staff.”
“I move that the board acknowledge the deficits in our budgeting process that have led us into a situation where not only Harborview, but other schools, are in need of teachers, but that due to the limited reserve in our budget … we not fund additional positions this year out of our reserve funding,” said Poole.
As Poole spoke, several members of the audience got up and left. One shouted, as he exited the room, “Thanks for nothing!”
Of her motion, Poole remarked, “It does leave the option that … if funding comes through that doesn’t affect our reserve fund, it could be revisited.”
Thurston and newly minted board member Destiny Sargeant were quick to point out that distinction when Saddler read the motion aloud but accidentally left off the mention of the reserve.
“That’s a critical piece of it,” Thurston said.
“It is critical, because if some other unused money should resurface, we need to be able to revisit this,” Sargeant added.
With that noted, Poole’s motion carried without objection.
As many members of the public drained out of the Juneau-Douglas High School library, where the meeting was held, Iverson pointed to a copy of a letter to the school board that he had brought with him.
The letter compares enrollment numbers at Harborview from early September to early February during the three previous school years, with the number jumping up by 17 students in the 2008-09 school year and by one and seven respectively in the following years.
“If they do nothing and then 17 more kids show up, it’s on them,” Iverson said, referring to the board members.
Iverson added via email, “Regarding the Board’s acknowledgement of their failures in the budget process to address unexpected enrollments in District elementary schools, I find it very hard to suffer their incompetence, especially with something as serious and meaningful as primary school education.”
Laurie Berg, who also spoke in favor of adding a teacher at Harborview during the meeting, described herself as “mad.”
“I do think there is money in the budget,” said Berg. “I think the Harborview community deserved an additional teacher, and I think they have worked so hard and done such an excellent job of presenting their case that I am dissatisfied with the board’s position.”
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.