District would tackle dropouts with city funds

Posted: Friday, May 28, 2004

The Juneau School District would hire three more secondary counselors and two more teachers if the Juneau Assembly gives the schools more money for next school year, Juneau School Board members said Thursday.

The School Board met to review its planned budget cuts for next school year and to prepare a wish list for the city. Additional state funds of $3.1 million have raised the limit on local contributions to the schools by $713,000. The School Board is asking for that extra money.

If it receives the funds, the School Board would add a counselor to the four-person counseling staff at Juneau-Douglas High School and double the one-person counseling position at each middle school. The middle schools have about 700 students each.

School Board member Bob Van Slyke said he was concerned about the dropout rate. About 35 percent of JDHS freshmen don't graduate. The counselors could help students plan for a successful high school program, he said.

But the middle schools would need more room if they added staff, said Superintendent Peggy Cowan.

The School Board also said it would spend new city funds to create two more teaching positions, which would be used to alleviate bulges in enrollments as needed each year.

The School Board also will tell Assembly members that it is bargaining with its three unions and money is tight.

"We don't have the funds to conclude bargaining at this point. They can help us," School Board President Mary Becker said.

The School Board also restored some items that it was planning to cut from next school year's budget. In doing so, it reduced the planned reserve fund from $514,000 to about $300,000, said district Business Manager Gary Epperson.

The district had recently proposed cutting $131,000 in activities to help fund the same ratio of students to teachers as this year, thus saving layoffs. But the School Board restored the activities money Thursday.

Deb Morse, principal at Juneau-Douglas High School, said activities help keep students in school. About half of JDHS students are involved in activities. Morse said she didn't see how the high school could raise funds to cover the proposed cut.

The School Board also added back into next year's budget $12,000 for the Juneau Community Charter School, $10,000 for the Sea Week program, $30,000 in building maintenance funds, and $31,216 in classroom materials.

Previously, the School Board directed that some of the new state funds go toward required contributions to retirement funds and for teacher positions that would have been cut for lack of money. The School Board also preserved the jobs of the truancy officer and facilities director.

School Board member Andi Story unsuccessfully asked the panel to add back funding for seven bus routes that will be cut. The routes are within a mile and a half of schools.

"I really do think that busing is crucial, that you know you can put your 6-year-old on a bus if they live within a mile and a half from school," she said.

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