The Juneau School District Board of Education is considering swapping out more elementary school level cuts for secondary level cuts.
The board took its first look at the budget out of committee Tuesday night, which cuts $4.1 million from the fiscal year 2012 budget.
David Means, district director of administrative services, outlined the budget cuts and the next steps toward obtaining City and Borough of Juneau Assembly approval. He said the budget to be approved by the city includes more than the operating budget, but also special revenue funds.
Means and Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich said that in changes to Pupil-to-Teacher (PTR) ratios at the third-grade level, there is still a savings of the equivalent of two full-time employees (FTE). That savings, Gelbrich said, goes into the year-end budget. Prior to that adjustment, the district shows in the black for $750,000, with those two positions it will have a reserve of $950,000.
During public comment, budget committee member Michael Heimann, also a teacher at Floyd Dryden, said that much of a reserve is too much in a time of a fiscal famine and could be added back into a couple of the cuts. He also advocated again for restoring three FTE for Extended Learning and reinstating the proposed one counselor cut at Juneau-Douglas High School.
Board member Ed Flannigan said he would likely be presenting a proposal to keep an increase in third-grade PTR, eliminate the 1.6 FTE positions in the secondary level for Extended Learning and reinstate the elementary positions. Flannigan said those EL positions help reduce PTR in grades 3-5 already.
Flannigan also suggested they look at having the CHOICE and EarlyScholars students be counseled by the Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School counselor to divide out services better. With the cuts, the counselor to student ratio at JDHS is 1:400, and 1:330 at Thunder Mountain High School. The nationally recommended standard is 1:200. Yaakoosge is 1:125.
Flannigan also suggested looking at a half-time counselor position at JDHS as an alternative.
Board member Mark Choate wanted to see a reduction in activities costs because of the fiscal situation. He said if it came to pulling teachers and those who work directly with students versus activities, he felt academics were more important.
Choate suggested cutting $200,000 from activities to give back to academics. Board member Andi Stori spoke against it, saying the increased activities were part of the Next Generation plan and activities are what keeps students in school.
Flannigan wasn’t very supportive of that either, since the increased funding has garnered the interest of a lot more students.
Choate also voiced concern over the loss of the counselor. He said he didn’t want to see a situation, in times of high suicide risk concerns, of losing more students because they didn’t have anyone to talk to.
Budget committee member Laurie Berg also advocated for the counselor position, citing statistics of higher graduation rates and emphasizing need for students to be able to plan their post-graduation futures.
Parents, students and staff again came at the district, urging reinstatement of the Extended Learning positions. They said the program works and benefits all students. They made the point these students need this level of focus at the elementary level to give them a boost.
Carolyn Meiner, one of the parents who has gifted children now in high school, said if these children don’t have this program they become bored, angry and frustrated because they’re not getting education at their level.
First grade teacher and parent of gifted children Natasha Chester said Extended Learning children need just as much choice and opportunity as kids on the other side of the spectrum. To make big cuts on either side is appalling, she said.
Barbara Thurston, board member, said she’s torn on the EL issue. She said throughout the discussion she hasn’t heard any comment from third-grade regular classroom teachers. She was wondering if there could be a trade-off between third grade PTR and adding back EL teachers, but she wants to hear from teachers and principals at those grade levels.
JDHS student representative Sam Kurland supported adding back the counselor and elementary EL staff. He favored further reductions in custodial services, cutting MAPS testing, cutting voluntary drug testing, adding parking fees for TMHS students (JDHS has no parking lot), and making other smaller reductions.
In order to add back instructional coaches (formerly literacy leaders) in the elementary schools, the district cut them outright from the secondary level. Tuesday night was their first opportunity to react, and those staff and the ones they coach spoke strongly in favor of reinstatment.
Teachers said this program is the most effective professional development they have ever had — some are in their first year of teaching and others in their 25th. They said it’s effective because the coaches work with them regularly and give them immediate feedback on ways to improve.
Board member Kim Poole said what she heard of the secondary coaching program made the most sense to her out of the whole process. She said the whole budget situation has made her physically ill, because no matter what happens, someone loses.
Discussion of what action the board wants to take was ongoing at press time. The board will make motions for changes, if there are any, at its next meeting March 15.
• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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