Officials from the Juneau School District told the Juneau Assembly on Wednesday evening they need more money from the city in the next biennium to maintain programs and bring underachieving students up to state standards.
Some Assembly members questioned whether meeting that financial request will be possible given the city's tight financial situation this year.
"We are in a position where ... it would be irresponsible of us not to tell the Assembly what the needs of the school district are," Superintendent Gary Bader said. "We realize you have difficult decisions to make, but we have to put our requests on the plate along with everybody else."
The money to fully fund all the requests "is going to be tough to find," Assembly member Dale Anderson said.
The district's budget request for fiscal years 2003 and 2004 totals approximately $38 million each year. The district is asking the city to fund up to state-mandated spending caps - about $17.73 million in fiscal year 2003 and about $18.07 million in fiscal year 2004 - and to contribute an additional $1.4 million over the two years for expenditures that fall outside of the cap, including building rents and student transportation.
The proposal would allow additional funding for English as a second language instruction, middle school counseling, a truancy-abatement position, vocational education, technology support and technology acquisition.
"In addition to maintaining the levels of programs we have," Bader said, "we have made some additions (in) areas that were not addressed or underaddressed in prior years' budgets. As a result of public input or board input, we've worked hard to put them in the budget."
Bader suggested the city could use timber receipt funds to cover the request. Juneau received about $930,000 of the federal funds last year, most of which must be earmarked for roads or schools.
Deputy Mayor Ken Koelsch said he remembered, from his years as a teacher in Juneau, times when the Assembly did not fund the district to the state-mandated spending cap. While Koelsch said he is proud the Assembly has funded to the cap during his tenure, he said "that seems to be taken as a standard now."
"The request to go (beyond the cap) has some stopping points to me because we have a list of items ... that are school board priorities," he said. "I see teacher salary as an important (issue), so my priority would be teacher salary. ... How do we make sure (school board priorities) are community priorities?"
Bader said the items included were identified as needs by district staff and by budget committees that included parents, teachers and administrators.
Anderson questioned whether the district has worked hard enough to secure grants and cut costs.
"We have reduced administrative costs, we have energy programs that attempt to save money," Bader replied. "We have neglected some things that we feel should not be neglected ... and, in short, we have not grown. ... We're using the same dollars to buy less" due to inflation.
The Assembly will further discuss the budgets of the school district and other city departments at 5 p.m. Monday in the Assembly chambers.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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