Assembly could do more for teachers

My turn

Posted: Tuesday, June 26, 2001

Although the Assembly likes to say that they give all they can to education each year, they do not. It is true that the city generally has funded the district with the maximum allowable under the state's education foundation formula. However, the city could also pay more for student athletics and other extracurricular programs, or it could pay the rent for the charter school or the alternative high school.

A letter appeared in last Thursday's paper from Assembly members Marc Wheeler and Jim Powell, urging the School Board to give Juneau teachers a raise. As a former School Board member, I certainly agree that our local teachers are of the highest quality and deserve a pay raise, if this can be done without negatively impacting the quality of education provided to our children. However, our assemblymen base their argument on several erroneous and misleading facts, and neglect to include other relevant facts. I would like to clear the record.

Mr. Powell and Mr. Wheeler state that the teachers have not had a raise since 1995. This is arguably true - the only raises they have had were some "step and column" increases as people moved up the pay scale. However, for the last several years, Juneau's teachers have been among the highest paid in the state because they have had a very favorable salary schedule.

Mr. Powell and Mr. Wheeler state that the school district budget has risen from $41 million to $50 million since 1995. Not true. According to the audit report, the district's operating budget increased only minimally - from $35.5 million to $38.2 million between 1995 and 2000, a much slower pace than the CBJ budget. In fact, had the school district's budget increased at a rate similar to the city's, there would have been plenty of funds available not only for staff raises, but also up-to-date text books and full-time nurses and librarians in the schools.

Which brings me to a few of the facts that Mr. Wheeler and Mr. Powell fail to mention. It is the CBJ Assembly members alone who have the ability to make more money available for the school district, so that higher salaries could be paid without cutting staff and increasing class sizes.

Although the Assembly likes to say that they give all they can to education each year, they do not. It is true that the city generally has funded the district with the maximum allowable under the state's education foundation formula. However, the city could also pay more for student athletics and other extracurricular programs, or it could pay the rent for the charter school or the alternative high school. If the Assembly chose to do either of these, this would free up additional funds for teacher salaries.

In addition, there is a federal program called the National Forest Receipts program. Under this program, the federal government gives money to national forest communities, including Juneau; generally speaking, 75 percent of the funds are allocated for schools and 25 percent are allocated for roads. In Juneau, the amount received by the city under this program has averaged $204,000 for the last three years. However due to a change in federal law, Juneau will be receiving $918,000 per year for the next five years, beginning this October. And what has the Assembly done with this $714,000 windfall, most of which is supposed to go to education? They have decided to deposit it into the city's general fund and not give any of the new money to the school district.

Finally, I should note that the Mr. Powell and Mr. Wheeler were not elected to decide school district issues or attempt to influence complex contract negotiations with the teachers' union - that is a job for our school board. However, if they really want to help get more money for teachers, perhaps they can work on encouraging their fellow Assembly members to truly fund our schools at the maximum amount possible.

Jeff Bush served on the Juneau School Board from 1993 to 1999.



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