District proposes cutting 18 teachers

Average class size would grow by at least one student

Posted: Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Juneau School District administrators presented a list of proposed cuts Tuesday that included 18 classroom jobs to help make up for a $2 million operating budget deficit anticipated in the 2009-2010 budget year.

The job cuts would reduce the district's teacher corps, made up of the equivalent of 392 full-time positions, by 4.6 percent. The proposed reduction would increase average class sizes by one student at the elementary and middle school levels and two students at the high school level.

Superintendent Peggy Cowan said if the reduction went forward as proposed, it wouldn't necessarily mean layoffs. She couldn't rule out their possibility either, but said during her tenure there had never been any. Past budget fluctuations that demanded job cuts were handled through attrition, she said.

The job cuts would save about $1.5 million, and complement a separate list of 28 line-item reductions and cuts the administration proposed in various school programs and departments worth another $1.2 million. Major items in that list include:

• Reducing district office budgets by 10 percent or $150,000.

• Reducing custodial services by $134,000.

• Discontinuing a contract with substance abuse counselors to save $110,000.

• Discontinuing an $89,000 summer school program that serves about 150 struggling elementary and middle school students.

• Eliminating one of three full-time elementary art specialist positions worth $85,118

• Roughly halving high school intramural funding to save $55,000. The reduction in intramurals are expected to be partially offset as more interscholastic activities become available as the two high schools' programs expand in the next school year.

The slate of cuts would make up for the $2 million deficit forecast to accumulate by June 30, 2010, maintain a $500,000 fund balance, and leave the School Board with about $152,000 to put back into programs of their choice.

David Means, director of administrative services for the district, said historically the district maintains a balance of at least $500,000 in cash on hand as a contingency fund.

The biggest chunk of the district's new operating costs are for higher salaries and better benefits, for which $3.3 million is budgeted. That figure is subject to change, because negotiations between the school district and three unions representing school employees are ongoing.

The negotiations to establish new three-year contracts are held in closed session and officials are tight-lipped about how they're going so far. School Board President Mark Choate said they've been negotiating in good faith.

Before the school board's budget work session Tuesday where these budget cuts were discussed, the board had scheduled 10 minutes of time in closed session for union negotiations; the session stretched on for about an hour.

Another variable still up in the air is the city's contribution to the school district, which the Juneau Assembly can opt to reduce. About $25 million of the district's $70 million annual operating budget comes from the Juneau Assembly, which is also anticipating a tight budget.

"We're going to cut ... if they give us everything we ask for," Cowan said. "If they don't, there'll be more cuts."

A joint School Board-Assembly meeting is scheduled for March 10.

• Contact reporter Jeremy Hsieh at 523-2258 or e-mail jeremy.hsieh@juneauempire.com.

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