JSD budget committee focuses on Strategic Plan

Posted: Friday, December 17, 2010

The Juneau School District's budget committee will focus on preserving the strategic plan and strengthening core education - especially in kindergarten through third grade - when determining how to address a $4 million to $6 million budget deficit.

The deficit comes in part due to several one-time grants expiring, increased projections in employee costs - such as contract pay increases and health insurance - and other standard expenditure increases.

The committee members discussed their thoughts Thursday on what they want to see the district keep and strengthen as it faces the question of what to cut.

Board member Mark Choate, who works on the graduation task force, said they look at the skill sets students have and what the desired skill sets are at graduation.

"Candidly, we're not doing a particularly good job," he said. "It's really hard to say that with so many well-meaning people trying so hard. In terms of our results, our math and science throughout the district is really abysmal. Our reading is not very good."

Choate said that shouldn't be happening in a town with so many educated families and such a supportive community. He said at the core they need leadership front he superintendent's office to keep the lights on and have teachers, but the paradigm needs to shift into something more effective.

Laurie Berg, committee member, suggested money be redirected for staff on the high school level to core class positions.

Rebecca Braun, committee member, said there is a notable amount of people who are pulling their students from the district and homeschooling. She said $22 million of the district's $80 million budget goes to teachers and elementary school specialists. Braun said she realized the other personnel are important, but she didn't feel they were making the district necessarily more effective.

Committee member Mark Smith said he wanted to preserve in-classroom teachers and in-classroom instructional aides, but felt the district has gotten too top-heavy and funds would be better used if reallocated to teachers and students.

Board member Andi Story said literacy is very important, especially in kindergarten through third grade. Literacy in those grades sets the foundation for learning any subject later. She also said it is important when considering what to cut, to consider Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, student achievement testing data and other assessment results. Board member Phyllis Carlson agreed, saying data tells the district what isn't working. She said literacy is key to preventing drop-outs, because issues don't typically start in high school.

Laird Jones, committee member, said what the district has been doing isn't working well. He said with an $80 million budget, the district should be able to achieve a lot more.

"We've got some really dedicated people that are in the classroom and in the administration, but I think we can do better," he said.

Jones said they should develop a mechanism that can detect and deal with a situation where a teacher or administrator isn't performing well.

He agreed that literacy in early grades is also essential.

Board member Kim Poole also struggled with the lack of student achievement, given the district's resources. She said youth in third world countries can travel from their huts to their education source, gain enough of the fundamental educational skills to move on to a bigger city or country and succeed in higher education and beyond. Conversely, there are places like South Korea, she said, that have as many or more resources than Juneau and they also excel. Poole said one thing that should be asked of all personnel is: Can you teach without the curriculum materials and still get the curriculum rigor?

Overall, committee members agreed that whatever changes take place, a focus on core courses and literacy is essential, and to align their curriculum - and consequently the budget - with the strategic plan.

"I haven't heard anything tonight that really worried me," said Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich. "I heard a lot of things at the core that we have the potential to do in this community. The reason I came here 18 months ago is I believe that we could."

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

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