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Legislators hear pleas for steady education increases

Schools told to stop complaining and just plan for flat funding

Posted: March 7, 2012 - 1:04am
Lillian Worl, a parent of two children in the Juneau School District, testifies before the House Finance Committee for more money to the base student allocation during the public comment period on the state's operating budget at the Capitol on Tuesday.  Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Lillian Worl, a parent of two children in the Juneau School District, testifies before the House Finance Committee for more money to the base student allocation during the public comment period on the state's operating budget at the Capitol on Tuesday.

The legislature opened public hearings on the state operating budget Tuesday, and from Juneau heard mostly concern about education funding.

The House Finance Committee, in hours of public hearings, was told that an education budget that includes no inflation increase amounts to a cut, but some committee members defended the flat funding proposed by Gov. Sean Parnell.

Juneau parent Lillian Worl said that the proposed budget would make serious cuts to the city’s schools, and having fewer staff would hurt education quality’

“What this means to my children is higher class sizes in classes that already have 38 to 38 students,” she said.

The result will be students less prepared to apply for college, while students who learn on outdated software and incompatible hardware will be less employable.

Retired teacher Nils Dihle said that as a teacher he actually loved flu season, due to the absences from a classroom of 28 or 29 students, dropping class size down to 17 for a week.

“I could really get to those kids,” he said.

Now that he’s not teaching, Dihle said he’s mostly worried about the education that his three granddaughters will get.

Alaska shouldn’t need to cut education by not keeping up with inflation, said John Alcantra, lobbyist for the NEA-Alaska education union.

“This is not right in a state that enjoys resources that other states can only dream of,” he said.

Several people told the legislators that while they appreciated the one-time funding to help with high energy costs the legislature provided last year and a similar boost, what the state’s schools really needed was forward funding that enabled them to plan for the future years.

That’s even when one-time money is eventually provided, as happened last year.

“It doesn’t prevent this agony we go through every spring when we’re laying people off,” said Bruce Johnson, executive director of the Alaska Council of School Administrators.

House Finance Committee Co-Chair Bill Thomas, R-Haines, said the Legislature already provided forward funding, it is just that the schools wanted more than they were allocated.

“How can you not plan for wages and other things?” he said.

The Legislature answered schools’ requests for stability by providing forward funding, he said, but now superintendents and school boards are asking for more money.

“They must be aware they had a budget,” he said.

Requests for forward funding seem just to be requests for more money, he said.

Juneau school board member Andi Story told the committee she appreciated the extra money outside the state’s base student allocation such as for career and technical education and to make up for past under funding of retirement.

Still, she said, the most valuable thing for districts was to provide education money within the state’s foundation formula. That’s even if extra money outside the formula is later provided.

“When it’s outside, we have to start with cutting, then we’re in the paper again, we’re upsetting parents, teachers and students,” she said.

“It creates this cycle that doesn’t help us with planning for our programs, it doesn’t promote stability,” Story said.

Juneau parent Richard Monkman said he served on the site council for Juneau-Douglas High School, and just finished working on the district’s budget committee.

“It was an extraordinary painful process when you are taking $6 million out of a budget the size of ours,” he said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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