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In a recent letter, Mark Wheeler and Jim Powell, City and Borough of Juneau areawide assembly members, stated their support of Juneau teachers and urged the board of education to grant teachers a raise with the additional $650,000 the district is to receive from the state.
Mr. Wheeler and Mr. Powell stated that the district's budget had increased from "$41 million to more than $50 million" since the 1994-95 year. However, the figures they cited were apparently total revenues of the district, which include pupil transportation, food service, activities and federal categorical programs, none of which are sources of income that may be used for general fund salaries. The facts are that the operating budget of the district increased from $35,487,000 in FY95 to $38,182,000 in FY 2000 - an increase of $2,695,000. The FY 95 amount would have been considerably higher had it not been necessary to cut 41 professional positions for that year because of insufficient revenue. Also, it is my understanding that approximately $1 million of the increase was the result of increased enrollment. In addition, in most years teachers received step and column increases, which resulted in increased costs in subsequent years. Then, too, there has been inflation.
There is no question that Alaska school districts have lost ground in their ability to compete with districts in many parts of the Lower 48 in attracting well-qualified personnel. It is unfortunate that Alaska districts experience less than adequate state funding while having local contributions limited by a legal cap.
During my time with the Juneau School District I found, with one possible exception, the board members with whom I worked would have liked to be able to pay teachers more. This sentiment shared by administrators. Yet boards and administrators are faced with the unpleasant task of having to make choices as to the use of finite resources.
The district is in the process of negotiations, and in time a settlement will be reached. I believe it is important to respect the process and to respect the parties involved. To have two elected representatives of another political body enter into the public discussion may be clever politics, but it is poor public policy. Perhaps when the CBJ next enters into negotiations with one of its employee groups, members of the Legislature will be able to advise Mr. Wheeler and Mr. Powell as to settlement.
Robert Van Slyke