Last month, several parents at Harborview Elementary School expressed frustration after the Juneau School District Board of Education voted unanimously not to fund an additional teacher at the school, citing precariously low budget reserves.
So the mood was jovial as the Harborview site council convened for a special meeting Thursday evening, where Principal Dave Stoltenburg announced that JSD Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich had told him that the district has extra funds that could address the school’s staffing concerns after all.
“Glenn informed us that he got the intensive counts, and those intensive counts were up from what they estimated,” said Stoltenburg, referring to intensive special education students, for whom the district receives additional funding. “Money became available.”
The additional funds mean that understaffing at Glacier Valley Elementary School can also be addressed, Stoltenburg said. That school has the highest pupil-to-teacher ratio in the district for intermediate grades, third through fifth.
Harborview has the highest PTR in the school district for primary grades, which are kindergarten through second grade. It has more students than Auke Bay Elementary School, yet one fewer teacher, a fact that has been frequently cited by advocates of a new teacher for the school.
The JSD administration had previously estimated that 89 intensive needs students would be identified this school year. Stoltenburg said that instead, 92 students have qualified for the designation — a drop from last year, and still below the 95 intensive needs students initially assumed by the district’s budget, but enough to provide the district with unanticipated funding that can address the schools’ staffing.
Instructional coach Cherry Eckland told council members that the teachers had unanimously agreed that a new teacher should be hired, and that adding a blended kindergarten and first-grade class would be the best option for Harborview. She said young kids in those early grades benefit from having extra attention.
“If they don’t get a positive start there, there’s going to be a long-term negative impact,” Eckland said. “We felt very strongly that having a certified teacher … will make a long-term impact on these kids.”
Eckland asked the site council to support the staff’s recommendation.
After site council members discussed the option, as well as two other possibilities — one involving a new blended first- and second-grade class, the other doing away with blended classes at the primary level — they voted unanimously in favor of it.
“We can’t lose,” added site council member Kurt Iverson.
Stoltenburg said that, having gathered input from both the site council and staff, he will present the school’s recommendation to the administration and school board. The board could meet as early as next Wednesday to approve additional staffing, he said.
If the board does so, it will be the second mid-school year hiring of the fall. It previously voted in September to add an extra teacher at Riverbend Elementary School, which faced similarly large primary class sizes (http://bit.ly/Tpplwf).
Iverson asked Stoltenburg how positive he is that the board will vote for additional hiring.
“I would have no reason to think it wouldn’t pass,” Stoltenburg replied. “I was very confident that it will.”
Iverson responded, “The reason I ask is that they’ve got a motion out there saying, ‘No, we’re not going to dip into our reserve fund to pay for any new teachers,’” referring to the motion made by Kim Poole last month that was adopted by the board (http://bit.ly/X4Eb2c). He added, “I don’t want them to get hung up on that. That’s what I’m worried about.”
The Harborview site council held a special meeting in September at which it resolved to formally request an additional teacher for Harborview.
Up until the announcement that the JSD has more intensive needs students than expected, the administration and school board has maintained that hiring another teacher for the school would cut into a fund balance that they have worried is already too low.
“Had not the (intensive needs) count gone up, we wouldn’t be here,” said Stoltenburg, underscoring the point. “(Gelbrich) wouldn’t have made that offer, to say that we could get an additional teacher.”
Jennifer LaRoe, a second-year site council member, informed the council at the meeting that she intends to file “or at least” discuss a formal complaint against the school district at a meeting with Gelbrich on Monday over its “lack of looking at a serious solution for Harborview.”
“The school board didn’t offer any solutions,” LaRoe asserted. “The school administration didn’t offer any solutions until this late date, and I have issue with that and I’m going to bring that to the administration.”
The previous site council facilitator, Brian Holst, expressed a different view. He said he wants to thank the school board for its efforts.
“I don’t think we should just complain,” said Holst. “I think when they do the right thing, like they are right now, they deserve our support. That’s how democracy works.”
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.