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Schools brace for $2 million budget shortfall

Advisory boards say reducing personnel may be only option

Posted: Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Juneau School District is anticipating a $2 million budget shortfall for the 2009-2010 school year and its volunteer review boards tasked with recommending cuts to make up for it reported Tuesday that there's little to trim aside from personnel.

Meanwhile, negotiations over compensation between the school district and the teachers' union are ongoing.

Four advisory budget boards made up of teachers, staff and parents representing the administration, elementary schools, middle schools and high schools reported out recommendations to the School Board during a budget work session Tuesday. The review boards were created last fall and were asked in early January to identify ways to reduce their respective budgets by 5 percent.

The consensus of the boards' representatives was that student-to-teacher ratios should be preserved, but that there isn't enough from schools' non-personnel budgets to make up for the shortfall. The district has an annual operating budget of about $70 million.

Board President Mark Choate thanked the volunteers for their work, but sought more specific recommendations.

"What do we do? Everybody is raising the same issue. We don't want any changes in staff or FTEs, but where do we come up with $2 million? Absent a huge bake sale, we're going to have to come up with an answer."

Choate said without clearer recommendations, the School Board may be forced to make indiscriminate cuts.

"Clearly, there must be some programs that are more important than others. Unless we can start prioritizing programs, we may find ourselves saying everything is equivalent in value," Choate said. "I know it's politically difficult to talk about."

The School Board's budget discussion will continue in a workshop scheduled next week.

In other meeting news, the School Board:

• decided to contract the Association of Alaska School Boards at a cost of $8,000 for help recruiting a new superintendent. Current Superintendent Peggy Cowan announced last month that she will be leaving the position in July to pursue new challenges in education with more emphasis on instruction.

• postponed renewal of the contract for the school lunch program held by NANA Management Services after it came under fire from board and audience members for unsatisfactory nutritional value, taste and forgone opportunities for a connection with a culinary education program. The board wants time to consider alternatives.

• after a first reading, approved a package of policy updates toughening penalties against hazing and revising fundraising rules related to student participation in athletics and other school-sponsored extracurricular activities. Debate about part of the new hazing rules that would make "passive participation" punishable was not resolved and expected to continue at the next regular board meeting, where the package will be considered on final reading.

• Contact reporter Jeremy Hsieh at jeremy.hsieh@juneauempire.com.



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