Juneau School District stuck on the numbers

Members vote to keep current programs

Posted: Wednesday, May 23, 2007

It took three hours Tuesday night, but the Juneau School Board set the most important number for the 2008 school year: student enrollment.

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After two rounds of votes during a special meeting, the School Board voted 5-1 to increase the projected enrollment numbers for Dzantik'i Heeni and Auke Bay middle schools to keep the current programs intact. Ten students were added.

Official school enrollment is based on district projections, which determine the number of teachers and amount of funding for each school, among other things.

"It determines everything," Superintendent Peggy Cowan said.

Resisting pressure from the district and within their own ranks to pass the budget, the board recessed before voting on the full budget package of $63.8 million.

Original school district projections set next year's enrollment numbers for Dzantik'i Heeni at 520 students and Auke Bay at 320, 78 students less than are currently enrolled. The numbers concerned the board because each school would have lost a teacher's position.

No other schools in the district faced a similar fate.

Before voting against the motion, President Bill Peters asked the board, "Are we going to follow the old way, or shift?"

Deciding to shift, the rest of the board voted to accept the school district's projections after adding three students to Dzantik'i Heeni and seven to Auke Bay.

In doing so, the board set the school district's total enrollment at 5,112 students for 2008. It's the number that every service the district provides is based on, from how many teachers it employs to how many buses it contracts.

The original projections came from a daily average attendance count conducted last fall before an outside consultant made projected enrollment recommendations to the district.

"We've always gone with the projections in the past," Peters said. "We need to trust them."

"The current numbers are not scientific," board member Andi Story said.

David Means, director of administrative services, agreed that the numbers were inconsistent with the April count.

"I adjusted some numbers," Means said.

When asked why he made adjustments himself, he said, "I was trying to minimize the impact to the schools."

Board member Mark Choate asked that the board consider the recent spring enrollment, which is well over next year's projection for Dzantik'i Heeni.

"If we don't, they're going to have some pretty big classes in that school," Choate said.

The board reconvenes tonight to continue discussion before voting on the proposed 2008 budget. The deadline for final budget approval is May 30.

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