City OKs maximum funding for schools

Posted: Friday, April 23, 2004

The Juneau Assembly has agreed to provide Juneau schools with the most operating funds that the state allows, commonly called the cap.

The Assembly, meeting Wednesday night, set local funding for the schools in the next school year at $18,157,200 for an anticipated 5,339 students. That's very close to what the city granted for this school year.

The district's total operating budget for next school year is nearly $40.12 million.

The Assembly also has included in the city budget $123,000 for the community schools program and $190,000 for after-school activities, nearly the amount it usually gives those programs.

In setting the city's budget for next fiscal year, the Assembly also will consider requests by the Juneau School District for money for after-school buses, crossing guards and a truancy officer. Those activities are not counted as operating expenses subject to a state limit, or cap.

The city gave the most that is authorized by the current state funding formula for schools, "so we're very pleased and grateful they did that at this time," district Superintendent Peggy Cowan said.

The city's minimal share of school funding is set by the value of local property. In addition, the city can give funds equal to nearly a quarter of the combined state funding and minimal city funding.

The Legislature is considering increasing its school funding. The increase would be worth about $3.1 million in Juneau. If state funding goes up, it would increase the amount the city can give to schools by about $713,000.

It's very unlikely that the city, looking at its own budget deficit of $2 million and layoffs, would provide funds up to the new cap, Mayor Bruce Botelho told school officials.

Unlike school districts, cities don't foresee an increase in state funds.

"There's nothing going to come in and bail us out, not this year," said City Manager Rod Swope.

If the Legislature gives Juneau schools an additional $3.1 million, the Juneau School Board likely would restore the 26 teaching positions it plans to cut for next school year, Cowan said. But the district still would face an anticipated $700,000 in cuts, she said.

Without more city funding in the next two school years, or an even greater amount of state funding, the district could be looking at teacher layoffs two school years from now, she said.

For now, assuming no new state funds, the district has asked the Assembly to provide $55,000 for after-school buses and $24,500 for crossing guards. The district also wants the city to take on the truancy officer as a city employee, at a cost of about $41,000.

Eliminating the after-school buses at the middle schools and Gastineau Elementary this school year, to help balance the budget, has resulted in fewer children participating in activities, and discouraged children from staying after school for homework help or other academic work, Cowan said.

"All of these kinds of activities are cut off from kids who don't have families who can pick them up," she said.

The crossing guards are needed because the district anticipates eliminating some bus routes close to schools.

The truancy officer has been successful in reducing truancy, Cowan said. If the state increases its funding, the School Board likely would retain the truancy officer in its budget, she said.

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