The Juneau School District Board of Education held a special meeting at noon Wednesday to approve the district administration’s recommendation that additional staff be allocated to two elementary schools.
Glacier Valley Elementary School and Harborview Elementary School can now begin the process of hiring one additional classroom teacher per school, with the intent of creating two new blended classrooms to alleviate large class sizes.
Harborview’s site council voted last Thursday to support school staff’s recommendation for a new teacher to lead a blended kindergarten and first-grade class (http://bit.ly/YNmjYe).
On Monday, Glacier Valley’s site council backed staff in calling for a new teacher for a blended fourth- and fifth-grade classroom, which would be the school’s third (http://bit.ly/RXph7j).
Both schools have been coping with having fewer teachers available than needed to meet the target pupil-to-teacher ratio, or PTR.
At Harborview, the high PTR is most pronounced in the primary grades, which are kindergarten through second grade.
Glacier Valley created a blended second- and third-grade class to address an undesirably high primary PTR, but that came at the cost of a higher PTR in the intermediate grades, or third-grade through fifth-grade.
The school board previously voted last month not to add any new school staff, citing a low projected budget reserve. The district administration recommended no new hiring for the same reason (http://bit.ly/X4Eb2c).
But Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich said that circumstances have changed.
“At the conclusion of the enrollment count period, we had two pieces of information that contributed to this question,” said Gelbrich. “One is that our overall enrollment seems to be higher by 20-some students, which is a good thing, and the second is that the number of children who qualified for really what amounts to almost a reimbursement for intensive needs costs was higher than we believed it would be through the summer.”
The district receives 13 times the regular Base Student Allocation of $5,680 per intensive needs student.
Defying earlier projections of 89 intensive needs students, 94 ultimately qualified for the designation.
During public participation, Eric Caldwell, a parent of a special education student at Harborview, expressed concern over using the allocation from intensive needs students for broader district needs.
“There is a degree of public perception among the special education community that money is being moved away from our kids to the general education population,” Caldwell said.
But Sally Saddler, school board president, said that is not the case.
“It’s our understanding that the additional money is not being diverted, that what the school district does is provide those services that are outlined in a student’s (Individual Education Plan),” said Saddler, as Gelbrich nodded in agreement. “It’s my understanding, based on assurances from the administration, that we’re not diverting … special needs money in order to fund this particular position or any other operation.”
The school board adopted a budget earlier this year with about $16.1 million in total marked for special education, among other “program-based allocations.” It also allocated funds for instructional coaches and specialists at schools.
Gelbrich said that with the unexpected additional funds now available to the district, “Now there is simply no reason not to add this staff.”
Board Clerk Andi Story made a motion to approve the administration’s recommendation, which was eventually approved.
“I think this is great news,” Story said. “I think that to get reimbursement for our special ed intensive count students is wonderful, and we can fund the PTR that we had planned on funding.”
Former Harborview site council facilitator Brian Holst, who was active in advocating for a new teacher at the school earlier this fall, thanked the school board.
“We would have loved to have it simpler and quicker, but we understand that the process needed to take place,” Holst said.
Harborview Principal Dave Stoltenburg also attended the meeting to thank the board members and administration.
“I’m hopeful that it will help our students,” said Stoltenburg of the board’s action. “By reducing the PTR, we’ll help our students address those issues.”
The board previously voted in September to fund an additional teaching position at Riverbend Elementary School. At the time, Riverbend was dealing with primary PTRs similar to those at Harborview (http://bit.ly/Tpplwf).
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.