District sticks with teacher cuts

Revised budget proposal added one committee item

A first reading of the Juneau School District administration’s revised budget proposal “does not sit well” with school budget committee member Michelle Norman and the other committee members and stakeholders who packed the school board’s Tuesday night meeting to testify on a series of agenda items.

Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich presented his fiscal year 2015 budget proposal, reworked after the 17-member budget committee voted on and submitted a proposal of budget add-backs and cuts.

However, “only one of the committee’s proposals” was implemented in the administration’s budget proposal, Norman said during her testimony: postponing a new $400,000 secondary math curriculum. Besides adding a teacher at Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain high schools and implementing a credit recovery plan at all three high schools, the budget remained mostly unchanged from Gelbrich’s original proposal.

That means the district is still on track to eliminate 20 teaching positions and purchase a new elementary school language arts curriculum (worth approximately $500,000). The community budget committee voted to postpone the curriculum purchase and keep pupil-teacher ratio, or PTR, flat at all grade levels. Cutting teachers would increase PTR by about three students across the board.

“The most urgent need is to support students at the high school level,” Gelbrich said in his presentation of the budget. “We have to address the minimum standard of each one graduating.”

Of this year’s juniors, 23 percent at TMHS, 15 percent at JDHS and 65 percent at Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School are not on track to graduate, Gelbrich said. The teacher additions and credit recovery program aim to turn this around, he said.

Gelbrich said district administrators agreed on the budget proposal, “as near unanimous as you can get without being unanimous.”

During her testimony, budget committee member Jennifer Lindley quoted Gelbrich from a recent Idaho Statesman article about candidacy for a superintendent position in the state, and asked Gelbrich to reconsider the committee’s recommendations.

“Building trust comes down to doing what the community is asking you to do through the elected board and following through with that,” Lindley read. “I want to trust you, the community wants to trust you.”

Budget committee member Stephanie Allison testified in support of the board. She said she acknowledged that the administration and the board aren't obligated to adopt all of the committee's recommendations, but to consider the community input before deciding on a final budget. 

School board member Barbara Thurston said she hasn’t been convinced by parents or teachers that keeping PTR down will increase student achievement.

“Nobody said that,” she said.

On the other hand, it’s clear, she said, that a new curriculum would provide a boost to achievement. She said public testimony has been a “battle of the teachers” — some have advocated for new curriculum, some have advocated for lower PTR.

“Either way we’re going to frustrate a number of people,” she said. “But it really sounds like curriculum is the way we need to be moving.”

Auke Bay Elementary School second-grade teacher Allison Smith said she had just been given samples of the three curricula in late January and was asked to try them out in her classroom and give a recommendation. Teachers will finish reviewing the curricula by the end of this week, district Teaching and Learning Director Patty Newman said in her report.

“Please give us more time,” Smith said.

Also at the meeting, Gelbrich said in his report that a board member will be chosen to help district job candidates through the hiring process, “in the event that if I were not here, the candidates would have the support of the board or the support of someone above them in the process.” The district is currently looking to hire a principal for Riverbend Elementary School, a human resources director and a student services director.

“There has been some interest in that I have looked at some other positions,” Gelbrich said. “The board elected tonight to do that, which is fairly unusual to do. But with the changing superintendent role ... it’s an important step for us to take.”

The board will do a second reading of the district’s budget proposal and take public testimony at a special meeting March 25. It will consider both the committee and administrative recommendations and present its final budget to the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly on March 28.

• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.

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