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School board identifies general budget priorities

At retreat, members agree to avoid 'sacred cows'

Posted: December 20, 2012 - 1:11am

Members of the Juneau School District Board of Education met with Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich and other members of the district administration in the JSD Central Office Tuesday evening for their quarterly retreat, where they agreed that nothing should be “off the table” in next year’s budget process.

While board members found common ground on several areas of the budget that they want to prioritize, they shied away from crafting a list of “non-negotiable” budget items.

“I don’t think there’s anything that’s truly off the table,” said Barbara Thurston, who will co-chair the JSD Budget Committee that will be appointed Jan. 8. “But I do think that it would be reasonable to go to the Budget Committee and say, ‘Here’s some things the board feels are important.’”

Members agreed that Measures of Academic Progress testing, among other items, is valuable to the school district.

“I don’t think you can have good instruction without good assessments,” Phyllis Carlson, participating by telephone, said.

Destiny Sargeant said MAP should be considered a priority.

“The MAP’s testing gives us the measurement to see how we’re doing,” said Sargeant.

Sargeant also said she wants professional development to be a priority, echoing board clerk Andi Story, who said she wants to continue the district’s participation in the University of Washington’s Center for Educational Leadership, which provides training to school administrators.

“I agree completely,” board President Sally Saddler said, responding to Story. “I think it’s building the capacity of our building administrators and helping them be strong instructional leaders.”

Board members also said educational materials should be considered an important piece of the budget.

But Sargeant said she does not want to go much beyond that in outlining the board’s position to the Budget Committee.

“I don’t know that we should have a whole lot of sacred cows, because what happens if we make too many sacred cows, it leaves little to work with and we also might destroy creative thought,” said Sargeant. “We already know that we want our measurements and the professional development, because that’s also been part of the strategic plan. And after that, I’m pretty open, really, to hearing it out.”

Story suggested that the board also express its desire to preserve funding for music education in the district.

“I think we get a lot of depth in our music programs, the at-risk music programs, and I would not want us to lose those,” Story said.

Sargeant agreed, but expressed wariness of putting it down as an untouchable priority.

“That’s too specific in my mind to put on this other list,” said Sargeant. “But yeah, I’d fight for some music … so I’m not disagreeing at all with you. I don’t know how detailed we want to go. I think the less detail we have, the more we stay open to creativity right now, and we obviously are going to get more detailed into the process.”

Member-designate Lisa Worl, who was appointed at the board’s regular meeting Dec. 11 and will be sworn in as a full voting member Jan. 8, said prioritizing one specific “line item” at the start of the budget process could generate conflict.

“It’s so early in the process. It can almost become a target, too, then, for other people who maybe think (pupil-teacher ratio), you know, is that much more important, or nursing is that much more important,” said Worl of making music education a top priority.

Board members also heard from Gelbrich about expected funding for the district.

Gov. Sean Parnell released his budget proposal last Friday. While the proposal contains no new adjustment to the Base Student Allocation, a critical part of the formula used in calculating state funding for school districts, it does provide one-year additional funding for education to the tune of $25 million, the same as the amount for fiscal year 2013 that was agreed as part of a legislative compromise this April, Gelbrich said.

Having $25 million in the proposal up front makes a difference in the district’s own FY14 budget outlook, Gelbrich told the board.

“This year, we were beginning the process with the assumption that that $25 million statewide … would not be forthcoming. For us, that’s about $900,000. And last Friday, the governor indicated that $25 million was a part of his budget proposal, and it’s still one-year,” said Gelbrich. “That’s up-front. So that changes our revenue assumptions.”

Gelbrich said that assuming no other changes, such as in salaries and benefits for staff, $2.1 million in reductions the administration believed would be needed for a balanced budget becomes $1.2 million if the $25 million for education in Parnell’s budget proposal is approved.

Saddler expressed relief that the district may not have to make as many reductions to the budget as it did last year.

“I was figuring we’d be looking at multimillions again this year,” Saddler said.

Board members also discussed what their message to the Alaska State Legislature will be for next year’s legislative session.

“For me, personally, it’s having increased and stable funding with the flexibility to apply it in the way that we believe we can best meet the needs of helping each and every student succeed,” said Saddler.

Board Vice President Sean O’Brien was cautious, though.

“Can we embed, somehow, into this language that legitimately, our concern and our energy is going into increasing instructional performance?” O’Brien asked. “The flexibility part, I don’t think that’s going to fly with them. … I mean, they want to see … performance, they want to see achievement improvements, they want to see kids coming out of school that are ready, willing and able to (do) additional education, work — productive Alaskans in our state, that’s what they want.”

While several board members voiced agreement with O’Brien, Saddler said the JSD should have flexibility in spending state money.

“As a school board, we have the local control and local authority to invest those dollars as we see they should be invested,” Saddler argued.

But O’Brien and Saddler agreed that the school district will have to make its case to legislators as to why they should receive more state funding.

“It just needs to be backed by evidence of what we’re doing, not just, ‘Give us more money,’” said Saddler.

As the nearly three-hour meeting concluded, Saddler said she felt it had been a “worthwhile investment” of time.

“I really appreciate that we don’t have a single list, that nothing’s off the table, but that we are committed to a few areas,” Saddler said. “That we feel very strongly about needing some sort of assessment system to be able to diagnose where it is we’re going. That we feel it’s important to invest in the staff we have. We need to continue to invest in our instructional alignment, our core curriculum materials.”

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

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