School district faces major shortfall

State education funding for local districts won’t be known until the end of the legislative session in April. While the governor’s proposed education budget includes money for rural school construction and college scholarships, the amount districts receive for operations is the same as last year. And that translates to a loss of revenue.

Combined with a reduction in other revenues and increased energy and personnel costs, the Juneau School District is projecting a 5 point 8 million dollar shortfall next year. Sixty-nine positions could be cut.

The goal is to keep the cuts as far away from the classroom as possible. But
Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich (Gel-brick) says the deficit is so severe it could impact students.

“When we’re talking about the kinds of reductions, even though we’re trying to keep them as far away from the classroom as we can, it still impacts how many kids are in a class, it still impacts the degree of support they have, it has the potential to severely impact how many different electives kids have, so (it impacts) the breadth of their learning,” he says. “All of those things that matter to us as parents and us as citizens of Juneau.”

Gelbrich says the largest number of layoffs would come from administration, where six positions could be lost. And when Assistant Superintendent Laury Scandling retires next December, her job would not be filled.

The number of assistant principals at each high school could go down by one. Eleven percent of the support staff could be cut and 7 percent of teachers.
The so called pupil / teacher ratio, or P-T-R, could go up by two.

The district will be working on the budget until March, when it’s due to the city and borough Assembly. School board member Barbara Thurston chairs the budget committee. She says the board’s goal is to keep as many teachers in the classroom as possible.

Thurston says input from the public is very important at this point in the process.

“We’re particularly interested in constructive suggestions,” she says. “All the cuts hurt in some way and we’re aware of that. And if people want to suggest not cutting something that’s been proposed, it’d be really helpful to suggest an alternative. You know, if we don’t cut a couple hundred-thousand dollars here, where can we cut that couple hundred-thousand dollars, or how can we accomplish the goals while spending less money?”

Thurston says Juneau will be among districts across the state planning to lobby the legislature for more funding.

“It’s certainly not our district that’s the only one facing this. It’s a pretty widespread issue this year,” she says.

While the school board will hold public hearings on the budget, members are encouraging written comments. Those comments can be emailed to budgetinput@jsd.k12.ak.us.