Budget measure could affect Juneau schools

Plan requires 80 percent of school funds to be used for teaching

Posted: Tuesday, April 04, 2000

Most of the state's school districts, including Juneau, would be out of compliance with state law under a proposal being discussed in the Senate Finance Committee.

The plan would change the percentage school districts have to spend on instruction from 70 percent of their budget to 80 percent.

State Department of Education Commissioner Rick Cross said ``close to all'' of Alaska's school districts would have to seek waivers to state law if that became the requirement.

It probably won't, though. Even those backing the change acknowledge 80 percent might not be a realistic number.

``I concur that 80 percent was a shot in the dark,'' said Senate Finance Committee Co-Chairman John Torgerson.

The number arose from a dispute between some members of the Finance Committee and the state Board of Education.

Republican Sens. Torgerson of Kasilof and Gary Wilken of Fairbanks are annoyed with the state board for changing the rules districts must follow for counting principals and some other administrative costs as instruction.

``We're saying if you do that, you've just upped the ante,'' Wilken said. ``You've got to have 80 percent, instead of 70 percent.''

Wilken and Torgerson proposed the 80 percent requirement as an amendment to a bill dealing with pupil transportation. The amendment has not actually been adopted by the committee.

It's only since a 1998 law passed that the state has been requiring districts to spend a set percentage of their budget on instruction.

The law passed that year required a minimum of 70 percent to go toward instruction, but allowed districts to move slowly, with a requirement of 60 percent last year, 65 percent this year and 70 percent for next school year.

Even at 65 percent, 16 schools have had to request waivers, Cross said. He said some districts have replaced principals in very small schools with head teachers.

The problem is head teachers don't have the certificate required to evaluate their fellow teachers, so teachers at remote schools may be ``evaluated'' by administrators 200 miles away, Cross said.

On March 25, the state Board of Education adopted a regulation allowing principals to be considered part of instruction, said Harry Gamble of the state Department of Education.

Wilken said he could go along with principals who supervise teachers being counted as an instructional cost. The problem is the Board of Education's action moved an entire accounting category over to instruction, a category that includes principals, assistant principals, support staff and their expenses for supplies, materials and travel.

The board did that because the change could go into effect in time for the next school year, Gamble said. If the board rewrote the ``chart of accounts'' for districts to create a new category for principals alone, that would take another year to accomplish, he said.

Cross said the board also did instruct the department to develop an accounting method to delineate principals who play a key role in delivering instruction from other administrative costs.

Wilken said he planned to talk with department staff and the issue will probably be taken up in the committee Wednesday.

He expects the committee will still want to increase the percentage districts must spend on instruction if principals are counted in the equation, but the percentage may not need to be as high as 80 percent.

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