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School district forecasts $3 million shortfall

Posted: January 8, 2014 - 12:05am

The Juneau School District is facing a $3 million shortfall as work begins on next year’s budget, Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich told budget committee members Tuesday night.

“The task you and all of us face is: How do we do what we do now with $3 million less?” Gelbrich said.

Gelbrich made that announcement during the first meeting of the school board’s budget committee, which is tasked with developing a full recommendation for next year’s budget.

“We appreciate the time and energy you put into this because at times it is fun and delightful, and at times it’s excruciating,” Gelbrich said.

The district has cut $11.7 million from the budget over the past five years. This year’s budget was $77.8 million.

The committee includes the seven school board members, three community representatives, two representatives of the district’s bargaining team and representatives from each of the district’s schools.

“Our job is to develop that world-class school system that educates each and every kid in the school district,” Gelbrich said.

Despite several positive trends related to graduation rates, there are some student groups — particularly students with learning disabilities and Alaska native students — that “aren’t there yet,” Gelbrich added.

“We have a virtual team of all-stars academically and socially that go out to attend the nation’s and world’s best universities, yet there are patterns of students for whom we haven’t been successful,” he said.

Board member Phyllis Carlson is chairing the budget committee, and Gelbrich and David Means, the district’s director of administrative services, will be working with the team closely throughout the process.

“It is a discussion and compromise,” Means said of the budgeting process. “It is speaking and working together to achieve our goals.”

The committee will meet five times before giving the school board its final recommendation on March 4. The board will have the first formal reading of the budget at a meeting on March 11.

Carlson told the committee that historically, the priorities of both the school board and the community is to preserve class sizes and continue professional development and curriculum. “Those are the main drivers in addressing the achievement gap,” Carlson told the Empire after the meeting.

The committee and board are dealing with uncertain figures because factors such as new legislation, changes in enrollment projections and a new contract with the teachers’ union could have significant budget implications, Gelbrich said.

“We’re in this together, in a state of ambiguity,” Gelbrich said, later adding that, “We don’t know what a number of our figures will be.”

With personnel costs making up 90 percent of the budget, the ongoing labor dispute with the Juneau Education Association could change the financial picture.

“It’s a big unknown if we don’t have that figure,” Gelbrich said.

The board and district will relay any changes in funding projections to the committee immediately upon receiving them, he added.

The current enrollment projection for next year is 4,790 students in the district — 43 students less than are presently enrolled, Means said.

Near the end of the meeting, community member Brian Holst was chosen as the group’s co-chair.

The committee next convenes on Jan. 21 when it will get its first draft of the budget for next year. Public comment will take place during the Jan. 28 and Feb. 25 meetings — the latter of which will be the committee’s last meeting.

All the meetings are open to the public and will take place at Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School.

• Contact reporter Matt Woolbright at 523-2243 or at matthew.woolbright@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/reportermatt.

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