ESL, talented programs top debate on budget

Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2002

Funding for English as a Second Language and Extended Learning programs topped public concerns voiced Wednesday evening as the Juneau School Board Budget Committee held its first meeting of the new budget cycle.

The district is facing a two-year budget gap forecast that exceeds $1.3 million.

A second Budget Committee meeting scheduled for 5 p.m. today was postponed until Feb. 4.

District Business Manager Zachary Hanna told the committee recently forecast increases in the costs of food service, electricity and garbage removal have widened the budget gap by an additional $200,000 during fiscal years 2003 and 2004.

The proposed budgets for fiscal years 2003 and 2004 now stand at about $38 to $39 million per year.

Much of the meeting was devoted to public comment from eight parents and teachers. Most focused on a letter sent to the board by the Budget Advisory Group, a committee of school site council representatives that met earlier this month to provide the board with policy recommendations for the new budget.

The group cited statistics showing 6.5 teachers serving the district's 747 bilingual/English as a Second Language students while 10 teachers served 299 gifted and talented/extended learning students, and recommended "that the district reallocate teachers based on academic need."

At Wednesday's meeting, parents and teachers of gifted and talented children in the district's Extended Learning Program disputed that recommendation.

Barb Mitchell, the EL teacher at Gastineau Elementary, said the school has 21 students identified as gifted and talented but she serves several dozen more in her math and reading classes.

"I'm actually serving 65 students, every single day," she said. "The numbers that are being presented to you as a justification for a shift in program (funding) do not reflect reality in my building."

Several parents who spoke in favor of maintaining EL funding noted there are other services in schools for bilingual students and that those services are sometimes duplicated.

At Wednesday's meeting and also at Tuesday's full School Board meeting, speakers advocating additional funding for district English as a Second Language programs noted that the concerns of those students and their families are often not voiced as strongly as those of EL students.

Harborview teacher Fred Hiltner told the panel EL programs have been fully funded while "the funding needs of ESL students have never been fully realized."

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