This story has been corrected. (See bottom for details)
The Juneau Assembly's Finance Committee teed up an additional $152,700 for school classroom costs Wednesday, while simultaneously putting its $500,000 commitment to defray the cost of student participation in school sports and activities in limbo.
The move came after hearing requests from local organizations asking for several million dollars for a variety of programs and projects. All of those requests, which covered things like $150,000 to help rebuild McPhetres Hall to $3,500 for the Douglas Fourth of July Committee, were added to a list of pending requests the committee intends to act on next week.
The pending request list is a temporary repository to hold the organizations' funding requests so the Assembly can treat them comprehensively, instead of piecemeal. The committee didn't explicitly put the $500,000 for school activities on the pending list, though City Manager Rod Swope suggested it as a future action.
Representatives of the Juneau School District were at the meeting to request the additional $152,700 to keep the city's financial commitment to the district's classrooms at the maximum level allowed by state law. That cap is defined as a percentage match of state funding for local education.
The Assembly was already on track to support the district up to the cap, though late-breaking school budget revisions made earlier this week pushed the cap higher and prompted the district's request Wednesday.
Support of school sports and activities are exempt from that cap. The committee's specific action was to ask Swope to bring the Assembly a formal budget recommendation to accommodate funding to the cap, but excluding the Assembly's beyond-the-cap support. That caveat covers the $500,000 for sports and activities, plus some smaller school-related commitments outside the cap.
Swope's recommendation is expected to be before the full Assembly at a meeting Monday.
Assemblyman Merrill Sanford throughout the meeting voiced concern to the other organizations and the district officials about the city's own looming financial troubles. City Finance Director Craig Duncan is projecting back-to-back budget deficits in excess of $5 million in 2011 and 2012, though the upcoming budget year appears sound.
Sanford said he wants to support the schools, "But it's taking away from the general government side of the house. Some where down the road, somebody's going to say, 'Whoa! Whoa! Put the brakes on.'"
Juneau's school sports teams have historically been privately funded, travel costs being one of the biggest hurdles. Before Thunder Mountain High School opened in the fall, school officials had been estimated the cost of de-privatizing the entire high school sports and activities program at $1.8 million.
A school advisory committee created last year to recommend ways to minimize the cost to students to participate in school-sponsored activities led a successful push to eliminate pay-to-play activity fees and secured the Assembly's $500,000 commitment.
Assistant Superintendent Laury Scandling has said the target for the 2009-2010 school year was to get the cost to participate in school activities closer to a 50-50 public-private spread. The academic argument for shoring up the sports program has been that students who participate in school-sponsored extracurriculars tend to be more likely to graduate.
• Contact reporter Jeremy Hsieh at 523-2258 or e-mail at email@example.com.
An erroneous statement was mistakenly attributed to Assistant Superintendent Laury Scandling. The school district’s target ratio for the cost burden of participating in school sports and activities in the 2009-2010 school year was 75 percent public and 25 percent private, a target promulgated by school district advisory committee.
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