Gelbrich: Even with cuts, reality likely to be harsher

Posted: Thursday, March 03, 2011

Even with a currently projected $1 million reserve balance for fiscal year 2012, the Juneau School District is playing with money it doesn’t have when adding back and switching around $4.1 million in cuts, the district’s top administrator said at Tuesday’s meeting of the Juneau School Board.

“The conversation now is almost about Monopoly money,” said Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich. “We don’t have it. Really the conversation we’re having is if we got the $100 BSA (Base Student Allocation) increase. How much more can we cut before we’re not doing the work, and how close to the edge are we willing to live, when we know that a year from now, we will have (another) $440,000 hit.”

“One million dollars of the budget we’re proposing is money we don’t have yet,” he said. “We may be pressed with the hard reality that we’ve cut here and made changes here, but it’s all built on quicksand. That funding has not been shored up and there isn’t any evidence in front of us, I don’t see anything to build our optimism on that funding is going to come through.”

School board members, toward the end of the budget discussion Tuesday, were discussing adding back in staff — at least for a year — in lieu of maintaining that budget reserve. Board member Ed Flannigan was still figuring out exactly how he wanted to present the proposal, but wanted to see Extended Learning staff back and some form of counselor fix for the Juneau-Douglas High School position slated for a cut.

Board member Mark Choate focused on a switcheroo of activities cost cuts to focus on academics — including the high school counselor.

Board member Andi Story said she is willing to accept the proposed budget as-is, with the exception of adding back in the secondary instructional coaches (the Iris program) after hearing advocacy from those instructors and staff who benefit from the professional development.

“That is the model of trying to best inform teacher practice so our teachers benefit,” she said. “Putting the best teacher in front of every student.”

She acknowledged not knowing what will happen with the BSA, but said she would be comfortable adding back positions to the point where the reserve was around $600,000. Story said it’s been that low before.

Many of the board members urge people to contact legislators about the funding.

“After five years, I think we’ve come a long way on the budget,” Choate said. “It’s certainly not a perfect process, but it’s light years ahead of where we were before. It’s the tightest budget, most realistic, we’ve had. For everyone talking to us about saving programs, you can talk to your Legislature easier than we can.”

He said that if the Legislature is dissatisfied with performance, that’s a separate issue than funding.

Gelbrich and board President Sally Saddler also encouraged people to talk to their legislators if they want to see education programs kept.

In other business, the board briefly reviewed the eighth update of the upcoming school year’s calendar.

The update from last month now includes 16 Early Release Mondays — the second and fourth Monday of each month except December and May. The labor unions reached an agreement on continuing the collaborative teacher work time to help improve student achievement. Another change was the district, by state law, cannot hold school on Jan. 2, even though the employee groups had been agreeable to it.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.



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