School board faces cuts as district demands grow

Losses in enrollment leading to decreases in state funding

Posted: Tuesday, January 16, 2001

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The Juneau School Board may have to trim at least $250,000 to balance next school year's budget, administrators said at a work session Monday. But some parents and teachers want more spending on students who aren't succeeding.

School officials expect the downward trend in the school district's enrollments to continue, triggering less state funding and a smaller budget overall. The projected operating budget for next school year is $37.3 million, down from about $37.9 million this school year.

The number of full-time equivalent students (some home-schooled students attend part time) has declined from 5,701 in fall 1998 to 5,521 in fall 2000. It could drop to 5,445 next fall, district officials said.

That means fewer teachers are needed to maintain student-teacher ratios. Even after dropping about 10 teachers, the school district would face a deficit, said Marysia Ochej, the school district's director of administrative

services.

Meanwhile, advocates are asking for more specialized teachers for students who don't know English or who struggle with the language. Administrators have talked about spending more money to maintain and replace the schools' computers. And the school district is negotiating with the teachers' union for a contract that would begin next school year.

"We have identified a ton of needs for this district," schools Superintendent Gary Bader told the board Monday. "What we haven't addressed is where we might be able to economize."

Haifa Sadighi, who teaches in the English as a second language program at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School, asked the board to look at cuts other than in teachers.

"Why is it that the first thing that comes up is cutting on the people that work directly with students?" she asked the board.

The school district spends nearly 90 percent of its budget on salaries and benefits, has cut in other areas and can't increase revenues, Ochej said. Dropping 10 or 11 teachers would maintain current student-teacher ratios, she said.

Teachers of students who struggle with English asked the school board to increase the program's staffing from part-time teachers to full-time teachers in the elementary schools. Only one elementary school has a full-time teacher in the program.

The number of students identified with a need for extra language help has risen from 659 last school year to 799 this school year, and many of them aren't succeeding in school, teachers said.

Some of the increase is due to identifying high school freshmen who need help. But teachers also said they've seen more adopted children from other countries, more marriages in which a foreign spouse brings children, and more immigrants.

Teachers said they give a priority to students who don't speak English, leaving other students in the program, such as Alaska Natives who aren't skilled at academic English, with less or no attention.

"When they need more academic language, they don't have it," said Molly Shaw, who teaches English as a second language at Harborview Elementary.

Tracey Martin, the English as a second language teacher at Auke Bay Elementary, said three years ago she had 21 students, all of whom spoke English. Now she has 39 students, five of whom don't speak English at all.

Mike Figler, a parent on the Harborview site council, said 62 of 107 children identified as needing the program aren't meeting the reading and writing curriculum. But only 38 of the 62 struggling children are getting special help from a language teacher or another teacher, he said.

School board member Alan Schorr said more support for those students is important. But he said principals could allocate teachers to the program if they were willing to raise student-teacher ratios in other classes.

And school board member Deana Darnall suggested parents should teach their children English before enrolling them in the school district.

"They're choosing to live in the United States. Perhaps they should learn English," she said.

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.



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