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Funds could cut class size

School board will also look for a way to lessen staff reductions

Posted: Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Juneau School Board will consider reducing class sizes in kindergarten through grade two thanks to the recent increase in state funding.

The board, which will vote Tuesday on next school year's budget, held a work session Friday to look at the latest revenue figures.

Board members also said they may look for a way to lessen staff reductions, caused by declining enrollments, that cut some electives at the middle schools.

The Legislature raised next school year's funding statewide by $70 million, including a $2.6 million increase to Juneau.

It's nearly $300,000 more than the Juneau School District would have received from Gov. Frank Murkowski's proposal, on which the district built its preliminary budget.

Moreover, the added state money means the city can give the schools nearly $70,000 more than before. That figure will be included in the budget the city administration is recommending to the Juneau Assembly, said Gary Epperson, the district's business manager.

In all, the district is looking at a nearly $48 million general fund budget for an expected 5,300 students.

About half of the new state funds will go toward higher payments into workers' retirement funds; about half is taken up by increases in salaries and benefits.

But with a larger fund balance leftover from this school year than previously reported, and by not funding positions added for unexpected enrollment bulges this past school year, the district can reinstate some items it had considered cutting and add new positions.

District administrators are recommending that the board:

• Add five elementary teachers in the early grades, reducing class sizes by perhaps two or three on average in kindergarten through grade two.

• Retain three secondary school counselors added partway through this past year.

• Buy new secondary school math textbooks, not updated for eight to 10 years.

• Allot money for art supplies, in anticipation of receiving a foundation's grant to employ an art specialist in the elementary schools.

• Add special education teachers and other specialists.

• Add a high school teacher to help students pass the state exit exam.

All of the proposed expenditures would leave the district with a projected reserve of just under $4,000. "That's pretty skimpy," Epperson said.

Board members also discussed the questions of allotting funds for extra teacher positions to cover enrollment bulges, and to at least partly undo teacher cuts in the two middle schools.

Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School will cut a technology teacher and a part-time physical education teacher, district officials said. Floyd Dryden Middle School will cut a life skills (home economics) teacher and its foreign language teacher, they said.

With schools' need to meet federal standards for annual progress in core subjects such as English and math, the middle schools had to give those subjects priority over electives when they faced cuts, Superintendent Peggy Cowan said.

It costs nearly $62,000 on average for a teacher's salary and benefits, according to the district.

• Eric Fry can be reached at eric.fry@juneauempire.com.



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