A new pre-kindergarten program for Juneau youth is still in the works, but funding the program may be up to voters this October.
The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly during Monday night’s regular meeting discussed putting the Best Starts for Juneau program on the municipal ballot as an advisory proposition resolution. If that were to happen, voters would decide whether to fund the program with property tax revenue.
Through the recommendation of Mayor Ken Koelsch, the Assembly moved that the issue to be discussed at a future special Finance Committee or Committee of the Whole meeting in July.
Joy Lyon, Executive Director of Association for the Education of Young Children of Southeast Alaska, and part of the Best Starts group, said deciding to go the direction of a ballot measure came after recommendations from the Assembly.
“Many of the Assembly members said we need to hear more from the community,” Lyon said during Monday’s meeting. “We need to know, to be sustainable, that the whole community is understanding the importance of it and committed to solving this problem in our community.”
According to the Alaska Department of Education and Early Childhood Care and Development, only 32 percent of kindergarten students in Juneau demonstrate 11 of 13 goals determined by the department as “kindergarten ready.” Those skills range from communication to social interaction to general knowledge.
After discussion at one of the committee meetings, the proposal will then be placed in front of the Assembly as part of a public hearing. If the Assembly approves the proposition, it will be placed on the Oct. 2 municipal ballot.
The program’s goal is to give child care providers financial incentives. The idea is that the incentives will increase teacher wages, improve learning environments and adopt the new curriculum. The program’s incentive awards are based on the number of children in the class and quality level of teaching, based on Learn & Grow, Alaska’s statewide Quality Recognition and Improvement System. Incentives would range between $125-$250 per month per child. According to Learn & Grow Director Meghan Johnson, 149 programs currently participate in Alaska in the statewide quality system.
Lyon said Best Starts started in Juneau when members of Raising Our Children with Kindness Juneau (R.O.C.K. Juneau) heard of Best Starts for Kids in King County, Washington. Lyon said they got permission to use that name from the group and began starting their work.
“It is an initiative modeled after (King County) and customized to fit our area,” Lyon said.
Back on the May 3 CBJ Finance Committee meeting, Lyon, along with Ted Wilson, Director of Teaching and Learning Support at the Juneau School District, Brian Holst, Executive Director of Juneau Economic Development Council and Blue Shibler, owner of Discovery Preschool, gave a presentation asking for funding of $2.18 million spread over the city’s Fiscal Years 2019 and FY20 budgets. At the May 9 Finance Committee meeting, the city decided not to fund the project.
Assembly member Norton Gregory, who was a proponent of the program being placed on the ballot, said going this direction gives the public the opportunity to take part on whether they support the program.
“I think it is important that the community is well-informed on the issues on the ballot,” Gregory said. “The community will be able to weigh in and share their thoughts with the Assembly, which will help assembly members steer their vote for this to go on the October ballot or not. This is an extremely important issue for our community members and especially to our young families. Our community has a lot to think about.”
This effort is expected to cost up to $2.8 million, adjusted for annual inflation, of CBJ funding in the fifth year when the program is fully implemented. The Assembly would need to increase property taxes to fund this effort but may be able to partially offset property tax rate increases over the next five years with natural increases in local sales and property values. The amount given, $2.8 million, is the equivalent of 0.58 mill of property tax in 2018, or $58 per $100,000 of assessed value.
Best Starts spokesperson Kevin Ritchie is confident that if the resolution is on the ballot, it will pass.
“The public deserves to have the ability to have a discussion about it,” Ritchie said. “We have no problem at all if it comes down to a vote. We think there is an undeniable case that kids in Juneau need to be better-prepared to enter kindergarten. Families need the benefits of good care and early learning system.”
City approves the sale of lots to Alaskan Brewing Company
The CBJ Assembly also unanimously approved the sale of four former city lots to the Alaskan Brewing Company during Monday’s meeting.
The city sold the four lots, located near the brewery’s Lemon Creek location on Shaune Drive, to the brewery for a fair sale price of $2.87 million.
Brewery co-founder Geoff Larson said the brewery has expanded eastward in the past and being able to move west, will help the brewery in the future.
“On our western boundary, we are busting out of the seam,” Larson said about the workspace on the western end of the building. “This would alleviate that and will allow us to continue to thrive in this community.”
The city sold the lots after wanting to consolidate all waste programs, including recycling, household hazardous waste (HHW) and composting. The former lots sold to Alaskan Brewing used to contain the water utility and HHW facilities.
The water utility will move to the old Valley Street maintenance shop and HHW will need to be relocated. The CBJ Committee of the Whole recommended entering a lease agreement with Waste Management to use its Capitol Disposal Landfill at 5600 Tonsgard Court to the Assembly for all-inclusive waste management site during its May 21meeting.
• Contact reporter Gregory Philson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 523-2265. Follow him on Twitter at @GTPhilson.