Teachers still face layoff risk

School board OKs full funding, but budget may be cut by assembly

Posted: Wednesday, March 22, 2000

The Juneau School Board has approved a fully funded budget for next fiscal year that would maintain current staffing and class sizes. But it's not necessarily the final numbers.

Board adds staff at JDHS

By ERIC FRY

THE JUNEAU EMPIRE

The Juneau School Board, in passing next fiscal year's budget Tuesday, directed the administration to add an industrial arts teacher and a music teacher at Juneau-Douglas High School.

The high school has a metal shop that sits empty while there's a high demand for industrial arts courses, said board member Chuck Cohen. And board member Alan Schorr said parents, students and faculty have expressed a clear need for a second music teacher.

The school now offers construction and auto classes, but no metals or industrial arts classes. It has one full-time music teacher and two part-time teachers to cover numerous music groups.

Board members supporting the new teacher positions cited student surveys asking for those courses. But other board members said surveys have shown the desire for many courses, and they questioned whether the board should be the entity making the decision.

``We have historically left it to the site councils to allocate teaching resources and

decide issues such as this,'' said board member Jeff Bush.

The board asked for the same positions last year, but the site council felt disenfranchised by the directive, said board member Carolyn Spalding.

The positions weren't filled because of a lack of funding, said Principal Sasha Soboleff, who allocates staff at the high school.

This year's school funding is still uncertain. The board passed a budget assuming the maximum local funding, but the Juneau Assembly has talked about cuts of $850,000 to $1.3 million, which would cost the school district teachers.

The board didn't talk about that Tuesday, but supporters of the motion told schools Superintendent Gary Bader to find the funds. They didn't say what should be cut to make it happen, if it comes to that. But two board members pointed to low enrollments in the alternative Phoenix program and talked about shifting a teacher to the main programs part of the time.

``There are areas in the school that look to be a bit soft, and there's a potential for reallocation,'' Bader said.

Students are registering now for next year's classes. But Soboleff said it's not too late to add new courses. The school often tinkers with the schedule over the summer, and students shift classes. The proposed courses are sorely needed, he said.

Lance Carpenter, facilitator of the site council, said the board's action sidesteps the council and school administration.

``One concern is what we're really doing is managing the site from the school board,'' he said. ``It's kind of delving into the weeds a little deeper than is really appropriate.''

The Juneau Assembly warned the school board months ago there could be cuts of up to $1.3 million, which school officials said could cost 22 teachers and other staff.

The city manager's preliminary budget is now recommending a cut of about $850,000 in the local contribution to schools, said city Finance Director Craig Duncan. The assembly is scheduled to work on the city budget in April.

A cut of that size would still require staffing reductions, said schools Superintendent Gary Bader. ``It would be a severe impact on the district.''

The timing of the funding process is an issue in itself.

The city may not announce the final local contribution until late May, just before the last day of school, which is when the school district must offer contracts to teachers for next school year.

If the school district had to cut staff, it would start with the natural attrition of people who are retiring or otherwise leaving, said Patti Carlson, the district's human resources director.

But there could also be layoffs of new teachers, who have been living with uncertainty ever since budget cuts were first discussed.

School officials are concerned many teachers will look elsewhere for a job. It's a time of nationwide

teacher shortages, and teachers are in demand.

``If we're not able to respond in a time when they're out looking and have other offers, they may very well decide to go elsewhere,'' Carlson said.

The school board on Tuesday OK'd spending of $37.9 million for a projected 5,614 full-time equivalent students (a few students are partly home-schooled) in the next fiscal year.

Administrators have called it a carry-over budget for conservative enrollments. The budget assumes state funding of $20.67 million, based on enrollments, plus the $16.82 million maximum allowed in local funds.

But several things could change the operating budget: less local funding, fewer students than expected, and higher pay for support staff.

A fully funded budget would maintain current student-teacher ratios in the classroom, district officials said. But a $1.3 million cut would cost 22 teachers, 7.5 custodians and one central office administrator, they estimated. A cut that large would mean more students per class.

The amount of state funding isn't certain, either. There are about 65 fewer students enrolled now than the budget anticipates for next year. If that holds true next fall, there will be less state money than budgeted. If fewer elementary students pre-register in the spring than expected, the district could hire fewer teachers.

The district also just started contract negotiations with the Juneau Education Support Staff, which represents about 250 employees such as secretaries, teacher aides and custodians.

It would cost about $300,000 to give support staff a wage increase similar to one that teachers negotiated last year, the district has said. Support staff got a small raise this year, but they haven't moved up the salary schedule for several years.

A fully funded operating budget would employ, in full-time equivalents, about 322 teachers, 216 support staff, 15 principals and 13 district administrators. That's the same as this year, said Marysia Ochej, the district's administrative services director.



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