School budget cut and passed

Fewer teachers, more crowded classrooms, the price for tightening

Posted: Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Juneau School Board approved a tentative two-year budget Tuesday night, cutting the number of teachers, increasing class sizes and dropping specialty positions aimed at curbing the dropout rate.

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The Juneau School District did not make any changes to the budget since it was first presented to the School Board two weeks ago. The board is required by law to present the budget to the city at the end of the month.

"I think the (School) Board passed a budget because they were required to do so," Superintendent Peggy Cowan said. "The budget necessitates cuts that the board is not satisfied to make, but with the amount of money that is at this time projected coming from the Legislature, they had to do this."

The approved budget has nearly $49.7 million for upcoming fiscal year 2007 and nearly $52.6 million for fiscal year 2008. If the Alaska Legislature does not increase funding for education the district will most likely lose a number of specialty positions, including three dropout specialists, a truancy tracker and a graduation exam specialist.

David Means, the district's director of human resources, said Juneau would need an increase of about $2 million to keep the positions and address other cuts proposed.

The numbers of teachers across the district will be reduced if the Legislature does not earmark more money for education and if the budget approved Tuesday goes into effect. According to the district's budget report - taking all funds into consideration - there are about 321 teacher positions hired for fiscal year 2006. The same report indicates about 298 teacher positions are budgeted for fiscal year 2007, and about 296 positions for fiscal year 2008.

Cowan said the decrease in teachers for fiscal years 2007 and 2008 is due to the elimination of the specialty positions, increased pupil-teacher ratios and decreasing enrollment.

The student population in Juneau is expected to wane in coming fiscal years. The total student population for fiscal year 2006 is 5,225. The district's projected enrollment is 5,143 students for fiscal year 2007 and 5,070 students for fiscal year 2008.

While the cost to run the schools is increasing across Juneau, the district could receive less money from the state if the Legislature does not increase the base allocation of $5,347 per student. If the base student allocation remains the same and the enrollment projections are close, the district could lose nearly $1.25 million over the next two years.

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