School District prepares for budget shortfall

Plan slashes student spending to pay for teacher retirement

Posted: Wednesday, May 02, 2007

If the current state education funding proposal passes the Alaska Legislature, the Juneau School District will face a $1.4 million budget shortfall during the 2008 school year.

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Part of the Legislature's proposal calls for a cut in spending on students, in favor of teacher retirement. As proposed, the Legislature would pay down teacher retirement accounts by cutting $200 from every student's allotment, dropping the state allocation to $5,180 per student. Statewide the funding formula cuts would contribute $44 million to pay down the Teacher Retirement System.

David Means, the district's director of administrative services, informed the Juneau School Board on Tuesday of the most recent formula released to the Association of School Districts.

Superintendent Peggy Cowan said a 2008 deficit would come from proposed cuts to the Basic Student Allowance each school receives.

"The members of the Alaska Association of School Districts are in agreement that cutting the BSA is troubling," Cowan said.

The proposal came as a surprise to Cowan who said the worst case expected was the funding formula remaining the same rate as in years past.

"I've never seen it reduced," Cowan said.

Last February, the board hoped to see a funding formula increase of $430 per student.

The district planned to expand funding in several areas in the 2008 budget, including a $245,000 pay increase for substitute teachers and an additional $120,00 on vocational and technical training. Cowan said funding increases were marked for creative arts, music programs and "at risk students."

"I'm still optimistic about the Legislature supporting education," board member Andi Story said. "The association asked the legislature to not lower the BSA."

Before the Legislature's May 16 funding deadline, Cowan said the annual dollar dance will include talks with lawmakers, and Juneau at large, about the possible effects the new formulas would have in Juneau.

Story said that some pressure is already being applied to lawmakers.

The district also will begin work to delay the effects of the spending cuts on Juneau students, Cowan said.

Cowan said the method the state arrives at education funding each year is inefficient. The system prevents Alaska from hiring quality educators.

"We're not sure about the funding for positions, or we don't get the money," she said.

Should the district face the budget shortfall, Cowan said programs would suffer more than staff because attrition would probably take care of staff layoffs.

The overall state funding formula increases special education funding statewide by $19 million, indicating that special education needs are growing.

According to Cowan, Juneau would see none of that money.

Under the Legislature's proposed budget, schools would receive money for special needs students based on a flat figure of two percent of the student population. That number may work in other school districts, but Juneau funding for special needs is already at 3 percent.

"Juneau will get less for each of our special needs students," Cowan said.

She proposed that the board bring the results of a recent audit on special needs students in the district to Juneau's legislative delegation.

• Greg Skinner can be reached at

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