The Juneau School District's announcement on Tuesday that it must pare $627,000 from its proposed budget for fiscal year 2006 shows that the state and city still have a long way to go in meeting one of their most important duties.
The funding would go up this year - by a projected $3.2 million to a total Juneau schools budget of $46.35 million - under a proposal by Gov. Frank Murkowski and a formula governing the city's contribution. Murkowski's plan accounts for about $2.4 million of that increase. But that boost is eaten up by necessities that the district can't control without staff cuts: salary increases, benefits, required payments into retirement accounts and new math textbooks. And still the district will have to make $627,000 worth of tough choices. These include possibly cutting a few teaching positions that were assigned to deal with enrollment bulges this year, taking back three secondary school counselors added this year and again looking at which areas it can afford to serve by bus.
In short, new money or no, Juneau's schools still are scrimping. And the really precarious part of this equation is that Murkowski's plan, and its $2.4 million for Juneau, are not yet assured.
Juneau's fiscal 2006 school budget is based on the assumption that state lawmakers will approve the plan and that the city will continue to support schools at or near the maximum level allowed. Now is the time for education advocates to push state legislators and Juneau Assembly members to make the assumption come true. If either part of the funding increase collapses, it will be classrooms and students - not the district's mandatory expenses - suffering.