Juneau School Board: Burk concerned about financial waste, school overcrowding

A dozen candidates vie for three seats on

Posted: Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Bill Burk, who has worked as a substitute teacher and special education aide in the Juneau public schools, says he would bring a knowledge of the inner workings of the district to the Juneau School Board.

"The school district wastes a lot of money," Burk said. "Juneau has some very talented educators in the system and they are not allowing those educators to keep their expertise in the system. With salaries and benefits, they are losing a lot of very talented people. This goes for teachers as well as paraeducators."

Paraeducators refers to instructional and special-education aides.

"I feel that the money they put into renovating the high school could have been better put into building another high school in the (Mendenhall) Valley," he said.

"The high school as it is is grossly overcrowded. Classrooms are running between 35 and 40 kids, which does not allow teachers to give the individual time to students that is necessary."

The city and school district hope to begin building a high school at Dimond Park in the summer of 2004 and complete it for the 2006-07 school year.

As another example of waste, Burk cited new textbooks that aren't used by teachers.

Burk said he'd like to reduce the number of administrators "and use that money to increase the salaries of the teachers and the paraprofessionals."

The school district has five formal strategies for 2003. The Empire asked candidates to discuss some or all of them. The goals are to increase student achievement, increase Native and minority student success, increase healthy behaviors and attitudes, ensure the best staff, and communicate with families better.

"I think student achievement can be increased with lower class sizes, especially at the high school," Burk said. "You can't give incentive to students to achieve when a teacher has so many students in the classroom that she can't give individual help."

Burk said he thinks the district is moving in the right direction in increasing Native and other minority student success. But, he said, "it can go a lot further."

As for the health of students, Burk said many high school students use drugs and alcohol, and the prevention programs must start with young children. Teachers need to know more about the substances so they can intervene, he said.

"There is no real prevention for drugs and alcohol done in the Juneau School District at an early age," he said. "It needs to be started in the elementary schools. ... Because most of the children are going into middle school already smoking cigarettes, and by the time they're going into high school they're already completely addicted."

Burk described himself as pro-union, and said the way to get the best staff is to pay higher salaries.

"Salaries need to come up to standards," he said. "We're losing a lot of good staff because of the salaries. They're either going into other fields or moving to other places that pay higher salaries."

He said the district won't be able to meet the standards of the federal No Child Left Behind Act if it doesn't pay teachers what they are worth.

Burk said communicating with families is up to the teachers, and the good ones do it well.

District officials anticipate they will face a $3 million deficit in next school year's budget, barring changes in state funding. The teachers don't have a contract yet for this school year. The next School Board is likely going to have to make some hard choices.

Burk said budget cuts are unnecessary.

"With a little bit of effort, the district could find grants," he suggested. "There's a wealth of grants out there to help augment the budget. ... If they keep cutting the budget as they have been, it goes back to losing good teachers, higher student-teacher ratios and less education for the students."

Burk said he is very committed to the planned high school at Dimond Park. "The new high school is badly needed," he said.

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