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School district may cut up to 26 teachers

Board still may approve pay raises for some employees

Posted: Friday, December 05, 2003

The Juneau School District may cut 26 teachers next school year to balance its budget, even as the School Board considers approving raises for teachers and offering raises to other employees.

The new terms in the one-year contract for teachers will cost about $1.32 million this school year, the school district has said. The expense comes as the district considers dramatic cuts over the next two school years among the roughly 250 teachers who don't teach special education or specialized classes such as English as a second language.

The School Board is scheduled to vote on the contract Dec. 18.

About $900,000 for the Juneau Education Association's new contract already was in this school year's budget, to cover increased health insurance premiums and movement up the salary schedule, which rewards teachers for their experience. But the district will have to dip into its $926,000 general fund balance for $387,000 to cover the contract's 2 percent increase in the schedule's rates.

Moreover, district administrators have asked the School Board to consider reopening negotiations with unions for the support staff and the administrators to see whether those employees also should receive 2 percent raises this school year. Those unions signed contracts last spring for this year.

Superintendent Peggy Cowan said the School Board last year had emphasized treating all three unions equally. Since then, an election has brought four new members to the seven-person board.

Such raises for the 250-member Juneau Education Support Staff and the 20-member Juneau School Administrative Association would cost about $225,000, according to the district.

"We are discussing it," said School Board President Mary Becker. "We have not come to any conclusion at this point."

Union representatives for the support staff and the administrators declined to comment.

The district's latest budget analysis, prepared Tuesday, shows the need to cut next school year's operating budget of $40.7 million by at least $2.45 million.

The district faces about $1 million in required added payments into employee retirement funds, a reduced general fund balance to draw from and $700,000 less in state funding than this year because it anticipates 100 fewer students.

The budget will need to be further cut if next year's employee contracts cost more, or if insurance and utility rates go up. The district's contracts with all three unions expire June 30, 2004.

Among the administration's tentative suggestions to balance next school year's budget would be to cut 26 teachers, reduce school bus routes, eliminate the facilities manager and the person who monitors truants, and reduce funds for classroom materials. A tentative budget for the following school year shows further cuts of 15 teachers.

"Everything we've given now is just trial balloons for the budget advisory committee," Cowan said, referring to a group of parents and school officials who make recommendations to the School Board.

At a School Board work session Nov. 18, district officials said they might have to cut 20 teachers two school years from now. But cuts in the latest version of the budget reflects the new teacher contracts and lower projections of state funding, Cowan said.

Ben Kriegmont, president of the Juneau teachers' union, said it would be counterproductive to raise class sizes while teachers are trying to meet the new demands of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The law requires schools that don't show enough improvement in annual student test results to offer more help to struggling students or let parents send their children to other schools.

"If the budget requires that cuts be made, our hope is that those cuts would be spread out, not only in the classroom but in other areas," Kriegmont said.

The Budget Advisory Group is scheduled to meet at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. The location has not yet been set.

In its first meeting, on Nov. 25, members asked district officials for a wider range of choices in making cuts.

• Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.



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