School Board may cut jobs designed to curb dropout rate

District faces possible $1.27 million shortfall for fiscal year 2007

Posted: Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Juneau School Board may be forced to cut several positions aimed at curbing the dropout rate.

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The district is looking at a possible shortfall of nearly $1.27 million for fiscal year 2007, according to Administrative Services Director David Means at the School Board's regular meeting Tuesday night. Shortfalls that will affect 2007 and 2008 arose from additional costs from personnel contracts, money toward state retirement programs and energy prices, and other increased expenses.

Some of the work the School Board has done in recent years to increase student retention and graduation rates may be affected by possible budget cuts if more money isn't set aside by the Alaska Legislature, officials say.

The district has recommended the pupil-to-teacher-ratio be increased across all grades to previous levels, potentially reducing operating costs by $880,000. The district also recommended eliminating the High School Graduation Qualification Exam teacher position, three dropout specialist positions and the truancy tracker position.

"In order to do those actions earlier, (the School Board) made cuts in other areas in order to add those priorities, and now there's just nowhere else to cut," Superintendent Peggy Cowan said.

The district is aiming for a nearly $49.8 million budget for fiscal year 2007. With the known increases, the budget is closer to $51 million, requiring some cuts.

budgets timeline

fiscal years 2007, 2008

public hearing: 6:30 p.m. tuesday, march 14, in the dzantik'i heeni middle school library.

final reading: 6 p.m. tuesday, march 21, at regular school board meeting, in the juneau-douglas high school library.

presented to city: april 19.

action by city: monday, april 24, at regular assembly meeting, 7 p.m., city hall.

School Board member Sean O'Brien said the board has the difficult task of creating a tentative operating budget at the same time teacher contracts are being negotiated and while the Legislature is deciding on state funding for education. He said there remains a need for a lot of dialogue between the community, the district and the School Board.

"We are really going to take a close look at (the budget) before it's final," O'Brien said.

School Board member Andi Story said trimming the budget is difficult because the board doesn't know what the revenues will be before the legislative session ends.

"We look at tough things because there are a lot of needs in the district," she said.

School Board member Julie Morris said some of the positions that are potentially on the chopping block have been very helpful in keeping kids in school, such as the truancy tracker.

"We just don't have enough money. That's it," she said.

Morris and Cowan both said the state's district-cost factor provides a disproportionate amount of money to areas with higher costs of living, forcing school boards in some communities to make noticeable budget cuts. Cowan said the Juneau School District needs more funding from the Legislature or it will have no choice but to trim certain expenditures.

"One of the reasons that Juneau's budget is as stressed as it is is because year after year we have suffered by not having an equitable cost factor applied in the formula, so it would help a lot if we had that applied," Cowan said.

Story said she is optimistic that the Legislature will increase funding so the School Board won't have to eliminate certain positions.

"There is support for those positions and we will be working hard trying not to cut them," she said.

"If parents still have concerns I think they should call their legislators and talk about funding for schools," Morris said. "Parents are very powerful."

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