School budget up in the air

One citizen attends public comment meeting Tuesday

Posted: Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Although the Juneau School District is likely facing painful budget cuts next school year, only one member of the public attended Tuesday's meeting for public comments.

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Administrative Services Director David Means was joined by School Board members Julie Morris, Margo Waring, Andi Story and President Phyllis Carlson to listen to Laurie Berg comment on the Juneau School District's 2007 fiscal year budget.

"I want us to keep the positions that we have put in place the last few years to help our kids who are dropping out and to work on keeping kids in school and getting them educated," Berg said.

The School Board approved a first reading of the fiscal year 2007 and 2008 budgets at its regular meeting last week, cutting three dropout specialist positions, a high school graduation qualifying exam teacher and a truancy tracker position. The School Board added the positions in recent years in an attempt to curb the high dropout rate in Juneau.

The district expects to receive $47.5 million and $49.8 million for fiscal years 2007 and 2008. With expected additional expenses, including employee contract increases, energy increases and increased workers' compensation insurance, the district will need $51 million and $52.8 million respectively, officials said.

The district's budget will be adjusted after officials find out how much is allocated by the Alaska Legislature and after it gets firm enrollment numbers next fall. The district will give a final reading of the budget at Tuesday's regular School Board meeting and by law must present the budget to the city at the end of the month.

"We will pass a budget as we always do because it needs to be done, but the reality of what it will look like come the end of May or June, when we actually have those numbers and the city has their numbers, it could be different," Carlson said.

Means presented a report at the public comment meeting outlining some of the cuts that the district might be forced to make. The first item in the report is a suggestion to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio, to save an anticipated $880,000. The report says that teacher salaries are the largest expense in the budget at nearly 54.3 percent of the budget. With an estimated salary increase for district employees of nearly $1.8 million and a projected deficit, district officials said they might have to cut some teacher positions to balance the budget.

"There are some things in here that may become critical," Means said.

The report also discusses reorganizing the custodial department. It suggested eliminating one custodian position and reducing 29 others to 10 month positions, possibly saving the district $194,000. The report also suggests delaying the purchase of $30,000 worth of equipment in the custodial department.

A reading specialist position that pays $80,000 is also on the list of potential decrements to the budget. The report says the position focuses on developing "reading instruction to address specific reading needs" for 247 of the district's 493 students in sixth through twelfth grades who are not passing the state's reading exam.

The report also suggests further reducing the contribution to activities by $174,000 because "activities are no part of the academic program provided by the district." The cuts would be seen in coaches' stipends, two administrative assistant positions at Juneau-Douglas High School and the district's dues to the Alaska Student Activities Association.

"From the turnout, and of course it was a terribly cold day, I hope it's not that people think that it's just some exercise and everything is going to come out (OK) and no one needs to do hard thinking," Waring said. "If we're lucky, that will be true and there will be an increase in revenue beyond our current expectations."

There are also some expenditures totaling more than $5 million for 2007 that the district may not be able to afford, Means said. The district may not be able to purchase curriculum materials, including new textbooks, which it says it needs, he said.

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