Board gives early approval to school district's budget

Posted: Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The Juneau School Board gave preliminary approval Tuesday to the school district's proposed $67.8 million operating budget for next year, an early step in what could be a lengthy budget process.

In its current form, the district's budget would boost funds significantly for high school sports and other activities but falls short of a task force's recent funding recommendations.

The budget puts an additional $365,000 toward high school activities, bringing the total amount of money allocated to next year's programs to $710,000. That's $400,000 less than the $1.1 million the task force recommended.

Convened by Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho and School Board President Andi Story, the task force's goal was to find a way to make sports and activities more affordable for all students while cutting back on the need for community fundraising.

The task force also recommend that the city pony up $550,000 for next year's activities, with private funding covering the rest of the estimated $2.2 million price tag for next year's programs.

Any reduction in public funding would mean some students would still have to pay a large amount of money to play sports, said task force member Amy Skilbred.

"We will not get rid of ... the inequity problem," Skilbred said.

School Board members indicated that they would examine the district's budget in much greater detail in the future, and would likely make changes to it.

School Board member JoAnne Bell-Graves said the district hadn't adequately funded activities in the past and now had to pay a price to "catch up." She said she would support the task force's funding recommendations.

Funding activities to the task force's recommended levels would eat up most of the money the district has left to spend on new programs next year.

The district asked the School Board to approve about $940,000 in discretionary new spending for next year, a small chunk of the district's overall $67.8 million projected budget.

Some School Board members said there would be more money available if the board was willing to carefully examine this year's budget rather than just rolling it over, mostly in its entirety.

"Because we never pare down this budget, at the end of the day we're sitting with nothing to work with," said board member Mark Choate. "We don't ever seem to look at programs and say, 'Is this program giving us the best bang for the buck?'"

Other School Board members said there wasn't an adequate way to examine a program's effectiveness, and one needed to be developed before discussions on cutting programs could occur.

• Contact reporter Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or alan.suderman@juneauempire.com.



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