Schools may cut 26 staff

Posted: Thursday, January 13, 2000

Juneau's public schools would have to lay off employees if the city cuts funding, says schools Superintendent Gary Bader.

The Juneau Assembly, meeting as the Finance Committee on Wednesday, asked the school district to look at the impacts of an $850,000 to $1.33 million decrease in the city's share of the schools' budget.

A $1.33 million cut would mean 26 fewer school employees, not necessarily all teachers, Bader said.

The city is facing a possible shortfall of at least $3.8 million in the upcoming fiscal year, or about 8 percent of the budget. Finance Committee Chairman Dwight Perkins said the schools wouldn't necessarily take a $1.33 million

hit. But assembly members want to know how it would affect class sizes and school programs.

``We're opening the book to cuts to the school district this year,'' said assembly member Jim Powell.

Laying off teachers would hurt students, said Rocky Eddy, president of the Juneau Education Association, the teachers' union.

``Oh man, we're back to our bigger class sizes right off the bat,'' Eddy said. ``Teachers doing way more with way less. I think it's the kids who are going to pay the price, but teachers will carry a lot of the burden in that.''

Layoffs in school and city personnel also could result in less state funding for local schools as families and students move away, Bader said. School districts get state funds based on enrollments.

``We are concerned we could trigger our own demise by considerable layoffs,'' Bader said.

The assembly first asked the school district to analyze a $1.33 million cut, which is 8 percent of the city's share of the school budget, while city departments would look at the impacts of 5 percent cuts.

But Juneau School Board President Stan Ridgeway said it was unfair to ask the school district to cut at a higher rate. The city could meet an 8 percent shortfall partly by raising revenues, but the school district doesn't control its revenues, he said.

Any city cuts would come on top of an anticipated $380,000 to $800,000 deficit in the schools' $38 million operating budget. That's due mainly to projected flat enrollments after a drop this year, new pay obligations to teachers, and possible added costs from future contracts with support staff.

In all, the figures being floated, which aren't firm, add up to a $1.23 million to $2.13 million cut in the school district's budget.

Nearly 90 percent of the school district's expenses are in salaries and benefits. There are 371 teachers, including counselors and librarians, and about 265 support staff such as teacher aides, administrative assistants and custodians.

The school district also employs 14 principals or assistant principals, eight central office administrators and 12 other support staff.

Even when the assembly funded the schools up to the allowed maximum, the school district kept costs down, Ridgeway said.

Until the most recent contract, teachers hadn't moved up the salary scale in years, and neither has the support staff, which will begin negotiations this spring, he said.

``Additional revenue is something that people in Alaska don't want to discuss, so it's going to be a tough position,'' Ridgeway said.

The school board's budget committee is scheduled to hold its first meeting Jan. 20.

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