School cuts loom if city doesn't OK additional funding

District says it would have to drop 3 teachers, 2 custodians, buses for after-school activities

Posted: Thursday, April 24, 2003

Juneau schools Superintendent Peggy Cowan told Juneau Assembly members Wednesday night that staff, activity buses and after-school activities could face cuts if the city doesn't provide about $292,000 in extra funding.

The Assembly's Finance Committee, comprising all the Assembly's members, heard the district's proposed fiscal 2004 budget with little comment.

Besides seeking a city contribution of $17.86 million, the most the city can give toward the instructional budget, the district is asking for nearly $274,000 for busing costs and $18,200 for middle school activities after school.

It's legal for the city to fund items such as those outside the "cap" on local contributions.

Cowan said if the district didn't get the additional funds, it still would have to bus students, and the money for that would have to come out of other sources.

"... we are a people business. There's not much else to reduce," Cowan told the Finance Committee.

Nearly 89 percent of the schools' budget goes toward salaries and benefits.

She said the district would have to reduce the staff by the equivalent of three full-time teachers and two custodians. It also would have to eliminate the bus routes that pick up children who have stayed after school for activities, and it would cut the middle school activity budget.

Cowan said dropping the activity buses is "a huge equity issue."

"If we eliminate them, it will again be the kids whose parents can pick them up who will be able to participate" in sports and clubs, "and the others won't," she said.

The district presented a $39.33 million operating budget for an anticipated 5,457 students, down about 50 students, mostly in the elementary grades, from this school year.

The city is facing its own budget difficulties. City staff presented the Assembly last week with a $189 million draft balanced budget for fiscal 2004. It assumed more than $1 million in department cost savings and $190,000 in new fees. It funded the schools up to the cap, but didn't include the $292,000 in extra funds.

District officials have been watching the state Legislature closely this year, as well. The Murkowski administration recommended cuts to education that would have cost Juneau schools about $835,000, district business manager Gary Epperson has said.

So far, the district's budget hasn't reflected those possible cuts. Cowan said the School Board didn't want to cause instability among staff, parents and community members by planning for the worst case.

The state House passed an operating budget last week that turned down Murkowski's requests to reduce state funding of school busing and "learning opportunity" grants, which help struggling students.

But the House eliminated money that has gone to school districts as tuition to pay for wards of the state such as foster children and incarcerated children. The children already are covered by the usual state education funding, the administration reasoned. The Juneau School District usually receives about $185,000 from that program.

The Senate is working on its version of the operating budget this week.

District officials also warned Wednesday it likely will face harsh budget realities two school years from now, in fiscal 2005.

The district plans to spend all of its $908,000 in reserves to balance the fiscal 2004 budget. Meanwhile, the district's contribution toward staff retirements is expected to go up by $1.1 million in fiscal 2005, to make up for the state retirement funds' recent losses in the stock market, Epperson said.

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