Schools seek $1.5 million in added city funds

Insurance increases, enrollment drops add to district's budget needs

Posted: Monday, March 18, 2002

The Juneau School District has 2,000 computer workstations of all shapes, sizes, makes and models from the past decade - and just a handful of people to keep things running smoothly.

"We're spending all of our time trying to keep our heads above water," said district Data Processing Supervisor Jan Spiech. "We haven't had time to do anything proactive for students and teachers."

Improving that situation is among the new initiatives included in the district's budget proposal for fiscal years 2003 and 2004, which the Juneau School Board will vote on at its Tuesday meeting. The meeting begins at 6 p.m. at district offices.

Going into the budget process, the district also faced a large increase in insurance costs and a projected enrollment drop of 173 over the next two years, which will lead to lower state funding.

The district's proposed operating budget, composed of state and local funds, is for about $38.78 million for fiscal year 2003 and about $38.32 million for 2004. The district is expected to ask the city to fund the local share to the maximum under state-mandated spending caps, at about $18 million a year, and take on additional costs of $1.5 million over two years.

Many noninstructional costs can be funded outside of the cap.

"We've looked very closely this year at our funding and we have included in our budget some specific ways ... the city can fund items outside of the cap," said board member Stan Ridgeway.

Those costs, which the district previously has placed in its operating budget, include kindergarten transportation, debt from a retirement incentive program, and rents for the Juneau Community Charter School and Yaakoosg Daakahdi Alternative High School, which aren't in school district buildings.

If the city provides money outside the cap, it would free up money within the operating budget for eight identified needs, including $104,000 for additional technology support staff and $155,000 for technology acquisition.

Other identified needs include:

* $137,500 a year to increase English as a Second Language teaching positions from 6.5 to 9. Floyd Dryden Middle School ESL teacher Molly Manning said her school has about 80 students identified as needing her services, but she can serve effectively only about 25 in small groups.

Manning said that not being able to reach all the students who need assistance "just breaks my heart because the few kids we do serve show tremendous gains."

Glacier Valley Elementary School Principal Bernie Sorenson said her school has more than 100 ESL-identified students. Although the school tries to give at least some ESL support to all who need it, she said additional funding would "allow us to give more intensive services."

* $35,000 a year to add a truancy tracking position. The truancy tracker would investigate the causes of chronic truancy cases and work to solve them.

"It's a critical role that we don't have filled," said Tom Milliron, principal at Floyd Dryden Middle School. He said the school monitors such cases but lacks the resources to do what a truancy tracker could.

"It's one thing to send home a letter to parents," he said. "It's another to have the human touch of a truancy officer making home visits (and) finding out firsthand what the problems are."

Other initiatives in the budget proposal include $165,000 a year to ease rising insurance costs for district support staff. That would increase district contributions from $496 to $550 a month.

The budget proposal is due to the Assembly by April 1.

"We're hoping that the city continues with their support of education," said Board President Mary Becker.

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