The extra costs of another school

Posted: Sunday, February 01, 2004

Erik Lundquist, chairman of the science department at Juneau-Douglas High School, thinks a second high school is a good idea, but he wants to know the school district can afford to run it.

Juneau School District officials have said they will receive more state funding for two 800-student schools than for one 1,600-student school. The state gives more money per student in smaller schools than in larger schools.

"Until the School Board can stand up and say, 'This new building won't cost any more money than the state's going to give us,' then I have a problem with stretching a thin budget," Lundquist said.

District officials will make their financial case in meetings with school planners at noon Tuesday at the downtown fire hall and with the Juneau Assembly at 5 p.m. Thursday at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School.

The district projects it will cost about $1.22 million a year in new expenses to run a high school at Dimond Park.

The district expects to receive about $822,000 in new state funding, just by having two smaller high schools. It also hopes to receive $189,000 in added city funding, because the maximum allowable local contribution will go up as the district's state funding rises.

The district would need to find another $200,000 to balance the Dimond Park school's operating budget.

Officials point to permanent savings of more than that by canceling some rented facilities and by using less staff to administer the alternative high school after it is moved to the Marie Drake building next to JDHS.

Of necessity, the latest estimates are based on costs, such as for salaries and heating fuel, as of this year, said Superintendent Peggy Cowan. Likewise, the calculation of state funding is based on the formula used this school year.

The district can't say what its expenses and state funding will be in August 2006, when the Dimond Park school could open if construction isn't delayed. Both figures could rise by then, Cowan said.

The amount of state funding would rise if enrollments go up, as well. Over time, enrollments could increase, either because of growing population or fewer dropouts, for example. The district projects the enrollment at JDHS to rise by about 40 students by 2006.

The district's preliminary budget for the new school assumes the staff of teachers and counselors will be split, with no new ones hired.

But the budget assumes more custodians will be needed, as will a principal, an additional assistant principal so that each high school has two, a nurse, a librarian, a registrar, and one more administrative assistant and instructional assistant.

The budget also provides stipends for after-school activity coaches, and salaries for an activities support staff.

The budget doesn't account for any added costs in busing students who live in the Mendenhall Valley but want to attend JDHS for its vocational programs, or for students who want to be bused for part of the day to take electives at the school they don't attend.

For Sally Rue, a former Juneau and state school board member, part of the issue over having two high schools is short-term versus long-term thinking about education finances and population growth.

"There's no doubt that every district in the state has a short-term (budget) problem, and that stems from the state not having dealt with the funding-gap issue," said Rue. "But there's also the longer-term perspective. Do we think Alaska is going to dry up and blow away?"

Some of the district's financial problems probably are temporary. JDHS English teacher Bill Ralston said, correctly, that a big part of the district's current budget gap is caused by having to make up for the stock market losses of the Teachers' Retirement System. But some corporations' retirement funds have recouped their losses in the market upturn already, he noted.

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