Committee recommends 'staff before stuff' to balance Juneau school budget

'Staff before stuff,' recommendation says

After two months of meetings, the Juneau School District Budget Committee, made up of 17 community members and overseen by the Board of Education and district administrators, voted on its priorities for the fiscal year 2015 district budget.


At a Tuesday night meeting in Thunder Mountain High School, the committee decided to alter administrators’ proposed budget by increasing class size by one student instead of the three proposed by the district, and postponing the purchase of new math and language arts curricula.

The committee’s initial cuts from the administration’s proposed $90 million budget added up to $2.3 million. Additions to the budget equaled $3.1 million.

The 17 committee members were then allowed to vote “pro,” “opposed” or “neutral” on each of the additions and reductions. After votes were taken and items prioritized, the committee prioritized $1.9 million in cuts and $1.9 million in additions to the administration’s proposed FY15 budget.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio, or PTR, was the most agreed-upon topic on the table. All 17 members voted to increase class size by one student rather than the district’s proposed three in grades 3 through 5. At every other grade level, 16 out of 17 members voted to increase class size by only one.

“Staff before stuff,” Juneau Education Association representative Michael Heiman said before the vote. “Teachers are dynamic enough that they don’t have to be recycled. PTR never gets added back, so once those class sizes go up, they stay up.”

The committee also prioritized putting a nurse back in every school, which would cost $162,000, and purchasing a new music curriculum, which would cost $50,000.

Discussions at former meetings pitted keeping class sizes low against purchasing new curriculum. Several committee members spoke in favor of one or the other before the group voted on priorities.

“If it’s an either-or situation, it should be PTR,” Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School representative Stephanie Marnon said.

Glacier Valley Elementary School representative Vaughn Hammond did not agree. The million-dollar curriculum should be purchased, he said.

“I don’t think postponing it is going to make it any easier next year.”

In the end, the committee voted to postpone the purchase of both the $400,000 math curriculum and $500,000 language arts curriculum.

It also voted to reduce instructional coaches from six to two and cut the district’s college preparedness program, AVID, for which the district pays membership and professional development fees.

The committee presents its proposed budget to the Board of Education on March 4. District administration will also present its proposed budget to the board. Based on committee and administrative priorities, the board is responsible for crafting the final budget before presenting it to the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly for approval March 28.

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