District cutting back on teachers

Move doesn't take into account further city, state reductions

Posted: Wednesday, May 21, 2003

The Juneau School District will reduce staffing by the equivalent of 4.75 full-time teachers, and plans to take other steps to balance next school year's budget, administrators said.

Juneau-Douglas High School will lose the equivalent of two teachers, Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School one teacher, Floyd Dryden Middle School one teacher, and Riverbend Elementary School 0.75 teachers, said Superintendent Peggy Cowan.

In some cases, schools may be able to make the cuts by attrition, or by reducing the workload of teachers who are paid more to teach an extra class, she said.

The cuts are just part of what is needed to balance the roughly $39.3 million operating budget, which has to absorb increases in expenses such as employee health benefits, teachers' retirement funds and new employee contracts, Cowan said.

Other cuts under consideration are extending kindergarten classes to the full day in order to eliminate the kindergarten buses, which take those students home earlier than other students, and putting off a new secondary-school math curriculum and the related textbook purchases. In all, the cuts would save about $525,000, Cowan said.

If the Juneau Assembly doesn't agree to the school district's request to spend $292,000 apart from the state limit on school operating funds, or if the state cuts its contribution to schools, there would be more local reductions, she said.

Gov. Frank Murkowski had proposed cuts to education that would cost Juneau public schools about $840,000, district Business Manager Gary Epperson said.

Principals allocate teachers within their school once the district provides the total number of staff.

At JDHS the cuts would mean dropping a section each in art, math, English and Japanese that were taught under one-year contracts, as well as cutting three other classes. The school also would cut a part-time counselor, Principal Deb Morse said.

Floyd Dryden is considering cuts in extended learning, math, history and band. (See article Page 1.)

Dzantik'i Heeni would eliminate a program that gave about 45 struggling math students a second math class, said Principal Les Morse. Class sizes have come down enough in recent years that, he said, "I think it's very doable. The cut will not put us in a real difficult position."

Part of a continuing grant for an after-school program could be geared to those math students, he said.

Riverbend Principal Carmen Katasse said her enrollments are projected to go up and she couldn't cut a classroom teacher. The reductions may come from music, physical education and counseling, she said, although no decision has been made.

"It's really sad. It's horrible, considering (enrollments) are up," she said.

Riverbend expects to start next school year with an average class size of 25 students in kindergarten through grade two, and 28 students per class in grades three to five - higher than the starting numbers this year. The number of students often rises in the school year.

Cowan said she will survey parents and teachers about changing kindergarten to a full day. Kindergartners now attend for most of the day. A little more than half take the early bus home. The bus service costs about $118,000.

"Parents are concerned about the length of the day," Cowan said.

Another consideration is that kindergarten teachers now have some time to teach reading to other students, and they would lose that if the kindergarten day is lengthened.

Putting off a new secondary math curriculum would save the district about $200,000 in textbook purchases, Cowan said.

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.

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