District passes budgets, but holds its breath for more funds

Budget must be submitted by city before legislative funding is made known

Posted: Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The Juneau School Board on Tuesday approved the district operating budgets for the next two school years. But members hope to amend them upward with more state funds.

"We know that the numbers we have are probably not the final numbers," Superintendent Peggy Cowan told the board.

The school district is required to submit a budget to the city by March 29, before it knows whether the state Legislature will fund students at a higher rate.

The $39.89 million operating budget for next school year would be balanced - if the district doesn't get more state funds - by laying off 26 teachers, reducing the budget of the charter school, cutting some bus routes, eliminating the positions of the truancy tracker and a literacy teacher and reducing funds for maintenance and custodial work.

The district also is negotiating new contracts with teachers, support staff and administrators. The budget doesn't include increased funding for employees, because the district doesn't know what the cost will be.

The operating budget for next school year assumes 5,339 students enrolled during the state's official count period in October. That's 87 fewer students than in October of this school year. The decline is mostly in the elementary grades.

The operating budget for the school year two years from now is nearly $39.2 million, and the district has talked about laying off 20 more teachers. The budget assumes there will be 5,292 students.

An education-funding package passed by the House this month and supported by Gov. Frank Murkowski would provide the Juneau School District with about $3.23 million more next school year.

The bill that raises the per-student funding, House Bill 233, was introduced in the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday morning, but the panel didn't discuss it.

The bill's increase in funding to what the state calls "basic need" also would trigger a higher amount that municipalities can give schools for instruction. That amount, often called the "cap," would rise in Juneau by about $743,000.

The city gave about $18 million to the school district's roughly $40 million operating budget for this school year. The city also provides several hundred thousand dollars, which are above the cap, for noninstructional items such as after-school activities and the community schools program.

Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho said it's "highly unlikely" the city would make full use of the cap if it went up. The city is looking at cuts of $1.5 million to $2 million to its budget, he said in an interview earlier this month.

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