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School district finds $750K in excess funds

Teacher contracts, sports travel ban also discussed

Posted: October 16, 2013 - 12:07am

The Juneau School District’s anticipated budget shortfall won’t hit as hard as first anticipated. During Tuesday’s school board meeting, a financial statement revealed an unplanned budgetary boost. More than three-quarters of a million dollars, to be exact.

A final audit of last year’s budget revealed that the school district’s account had about $754,000 in excess funds available for use in this year’s budget, said David Means, the district’s director of administrative services.

Means quickly followed that with another, bigger, number — about $1 million. That’s the amount the school board is expecting to slash from the budget if an anticipated enrollment shortfall of 100 students proves accurate. The tally will happen Oct. 25.

The newly found money will “go a long ways to help balance the (current) budget,” Means said.

He added that the board usually finds a surplus in the previous year’s budget, and that this year’s amount was “typical.”

Means said the trend doesn’t appear to be the result of repeatedly over-budgeting for certain items, and the excess funds come from sources that vary year-to-year.

“There’s no way to know at the beginning of the year how much you’ll have left over,” said School Board President Sally Saddler.

Saddler told the Juneau Empire during a break in the meeting that she hopes to funnel at least a portion of that money to the district’s “precariously, dangerously low” emergency fund, adding that she is just one board member, however.

Despite some requests during the public comment section earlier in the meeting, the newly found money is not likely to go toward contract-related issues for teachers.

“Anything in a contract is on-going, and this is a one-time emergency fund,” Saddler said.

Tuesday’s meeting came just two days before arbitration on a new contract for the district’s teachers is set to begin.

The school board is struggling to find the best balance between competitive salaries and benefits for teachers, along with what is needed to provide high-quality experiences in the classroom, Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich said.

“Reasonable people will disagree,” Gelbrich said about finding that balance. “When they disagree, some will use a public forum to voice their opinions.”

The majority of the public comment centered on needs for teachers in light of the looming contract negotiations, and many claimed the board had failed to negotiate in good faith last year.

Special needs teacher Gene Randall told the board he had “no confidence” that the body had the students’ and community’s best interests at heart.

“As you can see, I am not alone,” he added, referring to the room full of supporters.

Tuesday also marked the first regular meeting since the board voted to ban middle school sports travel last month, and the public was not ready to give up their fight just yet.

Dzantik’I Heeni seventh-grader Connor Norman teamed up with his sister to gather 146 signatures from his classmates urging the board to reverse its decision to prohibit middle school sports trips starting next year.

The board should pursue “solutions that look at providing the opportunity for everyone, rather than taking it all away,” said Michelle Norman, Connor’s mother.

The board narrowly passed the ban and members in favor of it cited cost-saving measures as the primary reason.

Later in the meeting, Board Clerk Andi Story said the minutes from the meeting including the middle school travel vote need to be corrected — the Activities Advisory Council never endorsed banning middle school sports travel, she said.

The board also conducted the official business of swearing in recently-elected board members Barbara Thurston and Lisa Worl, and the current leadership was tapped to continue in the same roles for the next year.

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