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Enrollment drops, teachers may too

Posted: Monday, January 10, 2000

The Juneau School District faces a shortfall of at least $385,000 in the next fiscal year, and it could be $800,000 or more.

The school district expects flat enrollments in the next two years. This school year, there were about 50 fewer students than projected.

``Typically, if you're looking at loss of enrollment, you're looking at loss of teachers,'' Marysia Ochej, the school district's director of administrative services, told a budget advisory group last week.

The group of parents, union representatives and principals is scheduled to meet today at the school district office from 5 to 9 p.m., and again on Tuesday from 5 to 7 p.m. Its task is to recommend ways to balance next year's roughly $30.8 million operating budget.

This school year's count of students for state funding purposes, an average of 20 days in October, was the full-time equivalent of 5,647 students. (Some home-schooled students take a few classes in the public schools and are counted as a fraction of full-time students.)

This year's student count is down 54 from last school year, and it's 62 fewer than expected.

Enrollments typically go up and down throughout the school year. But since the fall, the school district has lost 100 more students.

Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School has about 27 fewer students than at the start of the school year. Principal Les Morse said some students moved into the Floyd Dryden Middle School attendance area. Other students have moved out of town, he said.

``A month after the permanent fund dividends came out, people moved south,'' Morse said.

Riverbend Principal Jerry Schoenberger said he lost about 15 students after the dividends came out.

``I think they were waiting for it and then they left. But I've never had that severe a drop. We've had the most fluctuation in a long time with enrollment,'' Schoenberger said.

School districts hire teachers in the summer based on projected enrollments. The decline in students would have created a budget shortfall this school year. But there were more students than expected with intensive needs, who are funded at a high level, so the overall state funding roughly matched expectations.

But the decline in enrollments, coupled with teacher raises next year, will catch up to the school district. And there are other factors that could affect the budget.

The school district is expected to start negotiating a new contract with the support staff union in March. The Juneau Education Support Staff is now polling its members on what they want, said Vice President Debbie Marbach.

Support staffers haven't moved up the salary schedule for at least four or five years, Marbach said. Longevity raises might add about $308,000 to the budget shortfall, school district officials said.

And the school district wants to spend $100,000 to replace a central office computer that the manufacturer will no longer support.

Another unknown is the local contribution. Juneau Assembly members say they might not be able to fund up to the legally allowed cap, as they have in the past.

About $17 million in city funds would go to the schools if the cap is funded. But the city is looking at a $3.5 million shortfall in a $50 million budget, said Deputy Mayor John MacKinnon.

``We have to try to find three and a half million out of that in savings, so I think we're going to need some help from the school district,'' MacKinnon said.

The school board is scheduled to meet with the assembly's Finance Committee at 5 p.m. Wednesday.



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