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School budget cut less than feared

Reduction could cause loss of six jobs

Posted: Thursday, April 27, 2000

Local public schools will get $200,000 less than requested from city coffers under the latest Juneau Assembly plan.

A majority of the assembly's Finance Committee agreed Wednesday to fund the schools at about $16.62 million, below the request but the same as last fiscal year.

``Basically, it could potentially affect four to six positions,'' Marysia Ochej, the Juneau School District's administrative services director, said today.

It's a lot smaller cut than $1.3 million, which schools might have faced as their share of a city fiscal gap. A cut that large would have raised student-teacher ratios and cost 22 teachers, 7.5 custodians and an administrator, district officials said.

Assembly member Ken Koelsch, a former teacher, said he supported the $16.62 million figure to give teachers stability. He said it was imperative to retain nontenured teachers and to be able to recruit teachers to replace any who are leaving.

``We're already losing people,'' schools Superintendent Gary Bader told the Finance Committee.

The whole assembly is on the Finance Committee and six members supported the $16.62 million figure Wednesday. The assembly is expected to vote on the local contribution to schools Monday.

But the assembly could choose to give the schools more money once it knows the level of state funds to the city.

The Juneau School Board had asked for funding up to the legally allowed cap of about $16.82 million. With state funds, the schools' operating budget would be nearly $37.9 million for a projected 5,614 students.

Mayor Dennis Egan and Deputy Mayor John MacKinnon warned it was premature to fund the schools even at $16.62 million until the Legislature approves state funds to cities.

Once the assembly determines the local contribution to schools, it can later raise the amount but not lower it, city officials said.

``It concerns me that we adopt something, and we don't really know what's going to happen,'' Egan said.

Egan and MacKinnon wanted the initial city funding to be at nearly $16.1 million -- what the city administration suggested in its preliminary budget. It could be raised later, they said.

That figure was designed to share the burden of possible cuts in state funding among city departments and schools. If schools are funded at $16.62 million and state cuts are severe, other city departments will have to absorb the hit, Egan and MacKinnon argued.

Assembly member Jim Powell said the $16.62 million figure was intended to send a message of support for education.

School staff have lived through months of uncertainty.

The budget process began five months ago with warnings from the school district of a possible deficit of $400,000 to $800,000, causing layoffs. The city soon weighed in with a possible cut of $1.3 million. But increasing tax revenues have reduced the city budget gap.



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