The financial woes of Alaska’s school districts may not be as bleak as first projected, though there will most definitely be some difficult decisions ahead as district leaders begin budgeting for 2015.
Gov. Sean Parnell said during his State of the State address Wednesday he’d be willing to increase the base student allocation if lawmakers are willing to work with him on education reform. What that funding increase will look like in dollars and cents is anyone’s guess at this stage. What we know for sure is that, as of now, there will be 30 fewer Juneau teachers next year and classes are expected to have three more students each.
With such drastic cuts on the horizon, now is the time to reevaluate what matters most — teachers. When Juneau school officials start looking at where to cut $4.5 million from school spending, they need to keep in mind those who have arguably the strongest hand in determining whether or not a child succeeds in school.
As it stands now, the Juneau School District is looking to spend $1.1 million on new curriculums for elementary language arts and secondary math, a $766,000 increase over this year’s budget. Other high-end costs include upgrading technology at $250,000. New curriculum and technology are useful learning instruments, but only if there are teachers available to implement them and only if they are able to do so in a conducive learning environment. Not even the most advanced gadgets can replace a dedicated, creative, experienced educator possessing little more than chalk, a chalkboard and the desire to teach.
In short, the district shouldn’t choose textbooks and technology over its teachers at this time. The financial landscape has changed drastically in the last few years, but when times get tough the focus should absolutely be on the teachers and the students, not new curriculum.
City officials are asking the Legislature to fund $600,000 of the planned curriculum increase. If that money comes through, the school district will then have enough to implement a portion of the new curriculum. Rather than cutting half a dozen jobs or more to pay for the rest, school officials should wait until there’s a clearer picture of what the additional BSA (if an increase does in fact happen) will look like.
Is having bloated classrooms nearing 30 students each the answer? Is spending more than $1 million on new textbooks and materials absolutely crucial when graduation rates are already on the rise? These are the questions we’d like school officials, teachers and the board members to ask themselves.
Cutting positions may be inevitable in the end, but all parties involved should have a conversation first about where the school district’s priorities currently are and where they need to be.