School budget in limbo

Legislature must decide on spending for education first

Posted: Thursday, March 22, 2007

A $63.15 million draft budget approved this week by the Juneau School Board will be left on the table until the Alaska Legislature decides how much it will spend on education.

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"There's so many uncertainties in the budget right now," board member Andi Story said.

The board passed the budget Tuesday for fiscal year 2008, which begins in July.

The city's charter requires the school district to present its budget to the city by the end of March, but until the board knows how much money the state will provide, the final number is just a guess, said David Means, director of administrative services.

"What we're doing right now is a first draft of a budget, recognizing that we will have to revise the budget once the Legislature adjourns," he said.

This year's draft is significantly higher than the 2007 fiscal year budget of nearly $52.9 million. Much of that increase takes into account expanding retirement costs, Means said.

The Legislature is considering how to handle school districts' retirement costs.

"We're waiting for direction from the state on how they are going to handle that this year," Story said.

The district and the School Board are also waiting to see if there will be an increase to the student base allocation, and if the area cost differential will be adjusted to reflect inflation and the cost of living in Juneau, Means and Story said.

Administrators want to continue the level of education services in Juneau, while at the same time fill needs that have been identified, Story said.

"When you keep the student base allocation the same every year, costs aren't the same," she said. Insurance premiums, heating oil, staff wages and workers compensation costs keep increasing.

"If you get the same dollars, that means you're going to have to cut something," she said. "All those things add into the pile. So we're hoping the Legislature understands those factors and fully funds education."

The board added $245,000 for increased wages for substitute teachers, who have been in short supply in recent years, Means said.

"We think this will allow us to hire more substitutes," he said. "We're not sure about that, but that's our hope."

The board also added $560,000 for seven additional teacher positions to decrease the pupil-teacher ratio.

"We're trying to reduce the class sizes by one student across the district," Means said.

The board also thought it was important to increase career and technical education funding, Story said. An additional $120,000 for "vo-tech" related programs was included.

"That has been advocated by a lot by our community partners and the construction trade," Story said.

• Eric Morrison can be reached at eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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