Juneau may limit money for schools in 2011, 2012

District faces 'funding cliff' as federal stimulus money begins to dry up

Posted: Wednesday, March 10, 2010

For the past decade or so, the city has contributed above and beyond the maximum allowable amount to the Juneau School District.

Assembly discussions in April, however, will determine whether or not the next two years are time for the schools to "share the pain."

The district presented its proposed 2011 budget as well as its predicted 2012 budget to the Assembly in a joint meeting Monday night. The amount requested from the city in the 2011 fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2010 to June 31, 2011, is $26.1 million.

Under state law, the minimum allowable amount for the city to contribute in 2011 is $13.8 million. The maximum is $25.4 million.

For the past decade, the Assembly has committed above and beyond the cap in allowable categories such as community schools, transportation for students participating activities and homeless students, and high school student activities.

Activities funding, proposed for about $323,000 above the cap in 2011 and $365,000 above the cap in 2012, was intended to reduce obstacles for less affluent students who were less likely to participate in activities. Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich said the district has data suggesting more students participate in activities first semester this year than a year ago.

The district estimated its 2012 funding request at $26.5 million. In 2012, the maximum allowable amount is estimated at $25.8 million.

The school district is facing a "funding cliff" in 2012 as it reaches the end of its stimulus money - $1.8 million in 2011. Board members pointed out that in budget deliberations last year, the board raised the student to teacher ratio by eliminating 10 teaching positions.

This year, the district reduced middle school intervention money by $80,000 and is "struggling" to find the money to

• implement the technology plan as written by SERRC (Southeast Regional Resource Center);

• replenish consumable supplies;

• replenish consumable computer supplies as the district upgrades its technology, and

• replace its long term equipment on a replacement cycle.

The district estimates it will need to reduce its budget at least $600,000 and as much as $800,000 in 2012.

Gelbrich said the district will make those cuts from programs across a variety of funding sources, not just or necessarily those funded by stimulus money, based on whether or not the programs have been shown to be effective. Board members said they expect the new budgeting process, which clearly outlines how much money goes into which programs, to help.

"There are no sacred cows. We need to look at everything with fresh eyes," said budget committee chairwoman Sally Saddler.

Administrative Services Director David Means said the district's enrollment projects are what drives budgeting, but it's always "somewhat tricky."

The district has predicted a slight drop in enrollment during the next two years - from 5,007 this year, to 4,996 in 2011 and 4,938 in 2012.

This year, it found it had more students than it anticipated, due in part to more kindergarten students than it expected, as well as fewer students dropping out, Means said.

Assembly member Jonathan Anderson pointed out that while costs are increasing both for the city and the school district, the district's revenues have been increasing, whereas the city's have been declining.

"The Assembly is going to be faced with making some tough decisions," said Mayor Bruce Botelho. "The Assembly is very supportive of the school district, and there's no reason to believe we won't, but I would also emphasize that we have been looking in part to also share the pain."

City Finance Director Craig Duncan said the school district will formally submit its budget by the end of March. The city then has 30 days to take action on its support, and will approve the district's overall $89 million budget by the end of May.

The school board will have the final reading of its budget at its 6:15 p.m. meeting next Tuesday.

• Contact reporter Mary Catharine Martin at 523-2276 or maryc.martin@juneauempire.com.

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