The Juneau School Board voted Tuesday to ask the city for $450,000 in federal timber-sale funds to save three teacher jobs, buy more textbooks and upgrade computers. But it may need to rethink the decision.
The state says teachers and textbooks are regular operating expenses for which local contributions are capped by the state. The timber receipts can't be used to go beyond the cap on operating funds, said Eddy Jeans, school finance manager for the state Department of Education.
The city in recent years has funded schools up to the cap. The school district planned to ask for the cap plus the timber receipts and other city funds.
Next year's schools budget will cut 12 teachers because of fewer students, and will drop three more teachers to make up for the loss of other funds.
At a time when the school district's budget is in a "very tight crunch" because of declining enrollments and level funding for several years, it's appropriate to ask the Juneau Assembly for some of the federal timber receipts, schools Superintendent Gary Bader told the school board Tuesday.
Juneau expects to get about $900,000 next fiscal year in a program that shares with communities in national forests the federal revenues from selling trees for logging. Federal law requires that the funds be spent on roads or schools. Juneau traditionally has used the money to maintain streets, and that's how the preliminary city budget for next fiscal year earmarks it, said city Finance Director Craig Duncan.
Cathy Munoz, chairwomen of the Assembly Finance Committee, said the timber funds help balance the city budget. The body also has been talking about making a deposit into a rainy day fund.
"I need to look at it in light of all the financial requests we've had for that money," she said today of the school board's request.
The school board on Tuesday approved a $37.3 million operating budget to serve an expected 5,435 students. That's down from a $37.9 million budget this school year for about 5,520 students. State funding, which is tied to enrollments, is expected to be nearly $1 million less next school year than this school year.
In all, the school district anticipates having about 200 fewer students next school year than it had last school year. The drop is almost entirely in the elementary schools.
The school district didn't fill a few last-minute teacher openings in the fall of last school year when administrators realized that fewer students had enrolled. But it already had signed contracts with teachers and didn't cut the staff further.
Next school year's budget will catch up with that enrollment drop by cutting teachers. About 12 of those positions can be tied to lower enrollments, but the rest of the layoffs are intended to make up for the loss a one-time grant and a reduction in what can be charged to grants for administration. The school district also will cut one administrator.
School officials wanted to boost the budget with another source of city funds, outside the usual state-imposed cap on local contributions.
In all, the school board voted to ask the Assembly for $18.2 million for next school year's budget.
That includes $17.43 million, the most the city is allowed to give under a state formula toward the operating budget. That's up from the city's operating contribution of about $16.82 million for this school year, because local property is worth more now and the city contribution is based on property values.
The school board also asked for $150,000 for three teachers, and about $150,000 each for textbooks and computer upgrades - all to come from timber receipts.
But school district officials learned today that those timber funds, if they put the city above the cap, can't be used for teachers or textbooks. The funds might be available for buying computers in bulk because that would be a kind of capital expense allowed outside the cap, said Jeans of the state Department of Education.