Juneau School District faces $4-6M deficit

Posted: Friday, November 19, 2010

Early projections in the Juneau School District budget for the 2012 fiscal year show a shortfall of anywhere between $4.8 and $6.1 million.

The funding picture the school's budget committee - which consists of administrators, board members, public appointees and district-related bargaining units - looked at uses enrollment projections from FY 2011, which were estimated at 5,039. Given the current enrollment is 5,003, the school district is likely facing a higher deficit once new enrollment estimates come out.

Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich told the committee there are three outlooks based on what funding structure the legislature decides on. He said the optimistic view looks at the best-case scenario to come out of the legislature. The middle view is if the legislature changes nothing. And the low-funding view is if the legislature reduces education funding.

"These aren't figures we pulled from nowhere," he said. "We're hearing conversation about flat funding. ... I think it's important for us to recognize the temptation in a budget reduction mode, which is pretty certain, to whittle away."

Gelbrich said the reason the enrollment numbers haven't been adjusted is because they want to work with one set of figures until new projections are out. He said if they keep adapting them throughout the budget process, it makes the district look like they are "playing" with the numbers.

Gelbrich's recommendation to the committee is to remember the five key points in the strategic plan and fiscally support them. He said a list will be drafted of specific programs and costs in each of those categories.

"What are the key leverage points to move the needle on student achievement?" he asked. "We really better get focused. Our revenue would suggest we better."

Gelbrich said he wasn't asking the committee to agree with him, but urged it to consider his opinion when making budget-cutting decisions. He said ultimately, the school board will follow the recommendations of the committee.

Gelbrich also pointed out most school districts in the state went through this last year and weren't as fortunate. He said the city is a great partner, whereas in other communities that support has waned.

David Means, district director of administrative services, showed a pie graph of where the district's expenditures lie. Four percent is spent on mandatory things like facilities and utilities, 6 percent on other budget areas and 90 percent on personnel.

Means said the district is looking at a $3 million increase in costs between all employee groups next year, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and other short-term grant funds are ending this year and health insurance costs and other standnard expenditures will likely increase.

Additionally, employees with union contracts will receive automatic pay raises per their contracts. Gelbrich said he won't consider asking the unions to renegotiate and will honor those agreements made in good faith. He said they will renegotiate if the unions approach them. All three union contracts are up for renewal next year.

Committee Member Laurie Berg said that if they got another 40-60 students, that would be an increase of a couple of million dollars, but she also was concerned about the possibility of losing that many students.

Means said the need for additional staff decreases along with enrollment.

"It's a grim reality of what we have in front of us," school board president Sally Saddler said. "I hope we develop prioritization."

Committee members specifically focused on the priority of getting students in kindergarten through third grade to be proficient, habitual readers. So any program within the district working toward that goal should stay and/or be enhanced. The committee focused in on the foundation skills and a suggestion was to reduce electives at the high schools to narrow the focus on educating every graduate to have the necessary skills to succeed beyond high school.

Committee member Laird Jones said that in addition to building the foundation with K-3 students, high expectations are needed at all levels. He added that the fundamentals, like critical-thinking literacy skills, are absolutely essential to succeed in college.

The next budget committee meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Dec. 16 at Juneau-Douglas High School in room 206.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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