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Surplus to balance district's budget

School Board holds executive session to discuss labor negotiations

Posted: November 13, 2013 - 12:07am

The Juneau School District has decided where the surplus from last year’s budget will go.

About $700,000 of the approximately $750,000 surplus found last month will be used to cover the shortfall in expected governmental funding stemming from enrollment numbers coming in lower than projected.

“Our choice was to cut programs for the kids or use the adjusted ending fund balance,” Juneau School District Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich said.

The final enrollment tally fell 99 students short of the projection, but the decision to apply the surplus to cover the shortfall means there will not need to be a reduction in spending for this school year.

Gelbrich added that he is “worried” the lower enrollment this year could lead to a lower projection used for next year’s budget, which would mean some programs may have to be cut.

“We will go through the whole budget process with a different projection,” he said.

Now the district is facing yet another financial hurdle — internet speeds at Thunder Mountain High School have become so slow that certain aspects of the education process are being inhibited, said Chris Murray, the district’s information technology supervisor.

“We have 850 people behind a 20 (megabyte) connection,” Murray said. “That’s extremely slow.”

For comparison, added Murray, the national recommendation for Internet speeds is 100 megabytes per 1,000 people in the building.

Thunder Mountain has the same Internet speeds as last year, but usage is up 30 percent. When the school district approached its Internet provider to get more bandwidth they were denied. The provider, Alaska Communications Systems, said they were unable to provide more, said David Means, the district’s director of administration.

The current temporary solution has been to install a pair of GCI cable modems for certain programs to use, but using that method as a overall solution is not viable because there is a potential for overage fees in the “tens of thousands of dollars,” Murray said.

Two options to get the school through the current school year range from approximately $17,000 to nearly $50,000, and those numbers are minor compared to what will be needed in future years, Murray said.

“These are band-aid solutions to get us through the year,” he said. “We need significant bandwidth upgrades in the 2015 budget.”

In other news: The school board went into executive session prior to the public meeting to discuss the ongoing collective bargaining agreement with the teachers union. Most of the public comment portion that followed centered on the negotiations.

“The rest of our districts around the state have the same lousy legislative funding, and they’ve found money to give their teachers a reasonable raise,” said Tonya Mosher, a teacher at Juneau-Douglas High School. “That’s all we’re asking for.”

She added that many teachers feel like the school board is not listening to concerns and not negotiating in good faith.

“Never have negotiations gone well, never are teachers budgeted for and never is there enough money to go around, but this is an all-time low,” Mosher said. “Never have so many of my friends and colleagues talked about new careers.”

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