Class sizes will jump with proposed teacher layoffs

Posted: Friday, February 06, 2004

The average class size next year will rise by nearly three students in the middle schools and 212 students in the high school, if the Juneau School District goes forth with proposed layoffs.

Officials didn't say what the average class size in the elementary schools would be, but those schools also face reduced staffs.

Further layoffs projected for two school years from now would put the average middle school class at 38.5 students and the average high school class at 37.8 students, the district said.

"It's horrifying to think of about close to 40 kids in a classroom," Juneau Assembly member Marc Wheeler said Thursday night as the Juneau School Board presented its tentative budget in a joint work session at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School. "How do you deliver education with that many kids in a class?"

Schools Superintendent Peggy Cowan said, "It's not good for kids. None of this is good for kids."

With nearly 90 percent of the district's operating budget devoted to salaries and benefits, district Business Manager Gary Epperson said, "anytime we're talking reductions ... it almost requires us to talk about personnel."

The district is trying to reduce its budget for next school year by $2.17 million, leaving it with $337,000 in reserve. The district faces about $950,000 in added retirement costs, and $200,000 in added insurance costs, and it must absorb pay raises the district recently negotiated for this school year.

So far, the district plans to close the gap by laying off 26 teachers at a savings of $1.37 million; reduce busing costs by $286,000; move the alternative high school from rented quarters; reduce funding for the charter school; eliminate the truancy tracker position and a secondary-school literacy teacher; and not replace the retired facilities director, among other cuts.

The district, which prepares tentative budgets for two years at a time, has said it may have to lay off 20 more teachers two school years from now and eliminate its contribution to after-school activities.

The budget for next school year is tentative now because the district doesn't know certain significant costs and revenues. The district is in the midst of negotiating contracts with all three unions.

The district also can't know whether the Legislature will increase education funding or provide some relief to cities and school districts facing higher retirement costs.

And the district can't be sure whether the city will provide funding for instruction at the maximum amount allowed by the state, which would be $18.15 million next school year.

The School Board may ask the city to add the truancy tracker to the city payroll. Sometimes such positions are part of city police or transportation departments, Cowan said.

"It's an important item," she said. "In order to have kids learn, they have to be in school."

The board likely will ask the city to pay for certain non-instructional items apart from the cap on instructional funds. District Business Manager cited the usual city contributions of $123,000 for community schools and $200,000 for after-school activities.

He said the board also might ask for $55,000 for buses for students who stay after school for activities and academic projects, and $24,500 for crossing guards. The district may reduce the number of bus routes next school year, and more students will be walking to school.

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