Staff cuts, larger class sizes part of deficit solution

Posted: Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The first draft of proposed changes to the Juneau School District’s budget to address a $4 million to $6 million deficit cuts staffing by the equivalent of 43 full-time employees and slightly increases class sizes, among other changes.

Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich gave the district budget committee, which consists of school board members and citizens, a list of proposed cuts Tuesday night.

“The gap between what we would like to do and what we can afford to do is large,” Gelbrich said. “However our focus had to be on what we thought was best for students. Our mission doesn’t stop just because we are funded at a lower level.”

David Means, director of administrative services, and Gelbrich went through an eight-page list of budget increases and cuts prepared by the administrative cabinet through guidance of the budget committee. About seven of the pages were budget reductions.

The budget assumes the state Legislature approves increasing base student allocation by $100, which would still leave a $4.1 million deficit for the district. If the Legislature does not approve an increase, the district will have to cut a total of $5.3 million. If the district were to be really optimistic and assume the legislature approves $125 per student increase, the deficit would be $3.9 million. All of the funding scenarios assume City and Borough of Juneau funding will be the same as in years prior. Gelbrich acknowledged that even though the budget assumes those factors, that doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed.

Proposed cuts include dropping seven full-time equivalent positions because of projected lower enrollment; discontinuing the pre-school pilot program, including two positions, for Head Start at Gastineau and Glacier Valley elementaries; reducing funding for drug testing by $50,000; increasing the student-to-teacher ratio by one to eliminate 10 full-time equivalent positions; replacing the elementary Literacy Leader program with a literacy coaching program to eliminate two full-time equivalents; and eliminating three full-time equivalent elementary extended learning teacher positions, among other proposed cuts and changes.

The 43 FTE count does not mean 43 employees will be cut, as some staff are one-half or one-quarter time employees or other increments, so the number of staff affected is likely larger.

These cuts and others would reduce the $77.9 million budget to $73.8 million.

Committee members were concerned with some of the cuts focusing on eliminating too much from the elementaries or from programs that are working, such as extended learning. One was concerned about cutting literacy leaders, since the committee and district believe that elementary literacy is a top priority.

Committee Member Rebecca Braun wanted to see what the cuts represented as far as a percentage of that department’s or area’s budget. Concern also focused on cutting summer school for middle-schoolers. Member Laird Jones said if there is a problem with the program, fix the problems. He saw value in giving kids a last chance at being able to progress.

As far as literacy and information technology, Gelbrich said the district has to take the approach of finding better ways to do things. He said that doesn’t mean the staff wasn’t working hard or wasn’t talented, but that processes have to be re-examined for efficiency given the shortage of funds.

Committee member Laurie Berg urged the administration to look again at their assumptions. She said last year the district was off by about $1 million. She said she didn’t want to see drastic cuts if they weren’t truly necessary.

The committee will be sending comments and questions to the administration through Tuesday. The public is encouraged to contact the district at budgetinput@jsd.k12.ak.us.

The committee will meet on Feb. 1, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., answering committee questions and also taking public comment.

There will be further meetings adjusting the budget cuts upon recommendations. A final budget must be submitted to the City and Borough of Juneau by March 31.

A full list of cuts and other documents from Tuesday’s meeting will be available online today at www.juneauschools.org.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.



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