Counselors ask district to keep 3 new positions

District's budget assumes Legislature will OK governor's funding increase

Posted: Wednesday, February 02, 2005

School counselors are urging the Juneau School Board to keep three new counseling positions in the secondary schools.

Those positions, filled only last month, are among the administration's proposed $627,000 in cuts to balance next school year's budget.

The School Board took public comment Tuesday on the budget for fiscal 2006, which starts in July.

"We're busy," said Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School counselor Sally Donaldson, who is one of two counselors at the 660-student school. "We're meeting with teachers and we are addressing problems students have as far as dropping out of school later on."

The school district's $46.5 million operating budget assumes the Alaska Legislature will approve Gov. Frank Murkowski's proposed increase in what's called basic need, which is composed of state and mandated local funding. The increase is worth about $2.35 million to Juneau.

The district's budget also counts on the Juneau Assembly giving extra money up to the limit allowed by the state. The budget calls for about $900,000 more in city funding for next school year.

But at Tuesday's hearing, educators and parents talked about what's not in the budget.

Proposed cuts include a number of teaching positions added this school year to deal with enrollment bulges, such as 30-student kindergarten classes. Instead, the district will rely on its usual formula for student-teacher ratios to staff the schools.

Also proposed to be cut are two middle school counselors and one high school counselor. Three bus routes within a mile and a half of school could be cut as well, if they aren't deemed too hazardous for students to walk.

Frank Coenraad, a counselor at Juneau-Douglas High School, said the additional counselor brought the student-counselor ratio down from 500-to-1 to 350-to-1, which is still higher than the Alaska and national averages.

Interrupting counseling services by reducing staff is not in the best interest of students and parents, Coenraad said, reading from a letter signed by school counselors and administrators.

The priority of JDHS's site council is smaller classes, said parent member John Sisk. The average class is 32 and some are larger, he said, calling it a "depersonalized situation."

JDHS would need eight more teachers to reach the site council's goal of average classes of 28 or 29 students, he said.

The site council "is focused on smaller classes and a more personalized environment, and we hope you will make it a priority in the budget," Sisk said.

Mary Hakala, coordinator of Alaska Kids Count! - a statewide parent lobbying group with 500 people on its e-mail list - asked the School Board to support its proposal for $50 million more in education funding for the state than Murkowski has requested.

The group's proposal would mean $1.8 million more for Juneau than the governor proposed. It would allow Juneau to reduce class sizes and avoid the budget cuts, she said.

The School Board and Assembly are scheduled to talk about the district's budget at noon Feb. 9 in the district's boardroom.

• Eric Fry can be reached at eric.fry@juneauempire.com.



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