JSD board sends final budget to Borough Assembly

$90M spending plan for fiscal year 2012 may not make enough cuts, board president warns

Posted: Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Juneau School District board sent a $90 million budget to the Borough Assembly with a 4-3 vote Tuesday night after reinstating Extended Learning positions in the elementary schools and trimming three Extended Learning classes at the high school level. The budget also means slightly higher class sizes in third-to fifth-grade classes.

The school board president suggested the administration start planning for an additional $1 million in cutbacks due to the state Legislature’s lack of action on increasing educational funding.

The split vote came around 10:20 p.m. after more than three hours of deliberations and testimony and caps a long budget process. The Borough Assembly has scheduled a special meeting April 27, but another significant date is April 18, when the Legislature goes home with or without passing additional school funding.

The compromise amendments mean the district’s end-of-year balance would be $556,000, about $200,000 less than if positions had not been put back into the budget. The pupil-to-student ratio in the third- and fifth-grades will rise from 25-to-1 to 25.5-to-1.

The head of the school board summed up the JDS's grim financial picture at the close of testimony, and told those who spoke that not everyone would be happy with the final vote.

“This is where the rubber hits the road ladies and gentlemen,” Board President Sally Saddler said, listing lost sources of money and detailing the unlikelihood of additional money from the state.

Board Vice President Andi Story proposed passage of the administration’s proposed $90,688,690 budget for fiscal year 2012, forwarding it to the Borough Assembly for additional funding of $26,326,800. But Story’s motion came with an amendment aimed at restoring three secondary instructional coaches, mentors who work with secondary teachers to enhance teaching abilities and coursework literacy.

That proposal would have cut the district’s year-end balance from more than $700,000 to $538,000.

Board member Ed Flanagan, who was uncomfortable with the budget being introduced along with an immediate amendment, wanted to add his own amendment restoring some elementary school Extended Learning Program positions, reducing some positions at the high school level and also raising teacher-to-student ratios as part of a cost-savings measure.

The budget originally trimmed three positions in a program to aid advanced studies, such as fifth-graders studying sixth-grade math.

Flanagan’s amendment was voted down, as was Story’s motion bringing the amended budget forward by a 4-3 vote, and ensuing motions led Board President Saddler to call a 15-minute recess to research procedures in Robert’s Rules of Order.

Nine people testified for various program restorations, with consistent support for secondary instructional coaches who work with teachers.

“I would like to commend the district for having literacy as its core value” and adopting it as a strategic initiative, said Patty George of the Southeast Educational Foundation. “My question is does this value and initiative end at the fifth-grade?”

George praised the work of the mentors from the Institute of Research-based Instructional Strategies (IRIS).

Elementary school teacher Debbie Vance spoke against raising class sizes, saying she’s heard people say it doesn’t matter “if the teachers are good enough. No matter how good you are it does not give you more time in the day.”

Vance said some students will not get the attention they need in school, and said managing a classroom is not the same as teaching.

• Contact Managing Editor John R. Moses at 523-2265 or at john.moses@juneauempire.com.

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