Not much good news for budget committee

Juneau schools may have slightly lower enrollment next fall and no additional operating funds from the state.  Those are two of the assumptions school district officials are using in crafting next year’s budget.

JSD Administrative Services Director David Means on Tuesday addresses the Budget Committee and Board of Education members.

The 17-member school budget committee Tuesday heard the bad and good news that makes up the district’s fiscal year 2014 spending plan.  They assume more than $1.25-million dollars in cuts will have to be made, unless the state legislature increases the base student allocation – that’s the amount schools get per student for operating expenses.  At $5,680 a pupil, it’s remained the same for two years and there is no expectation of change for next year.

The picture is not as bleak as last year, though, when more than $4-million had to be carved out of the school district spending plan.   And when school started, an unexpected spike in elementary school enrollment had administrators searching for more funds to hire additional teachers.

School Board budget committee chair Barbara Thurston said that won’t happen next fall. She’s asking the budget committee and board to come up with a better process “and possibly setting aside funds for those late teachers.  And that’s a non-trivial process, but I think that’s something this budget committee will be dealing with is how do we handle that.”

Billed as one of two public hearings during the two-month budget process, only a handful of people testified Tuesday night, including Mendenhall River Community School fifth grade teacher Adam Berkey. He said he could speak for all elementary schools that need more staff.

“Before you take away one more person out of elementary schools, please consider anything else.  We are stretched thin to the point that I go out at recesses to help out on the playground, because I want our kids to be safe; we don’t have enough people out there.  We need more people in elementary,” Berkey said.

Speaking for the Extended Learning Parent Advisory Committee, Brandon Smith asked the members to maintain current funding – and preferably increase – the Extended Learning program for high achievers.

He says the common perception that gifted kids will be fine regardless of how their needs are addressed is true only if their goals are simply graduating from high school.

“High achieving students have no problem doing this.  They will meet core standards; they’ll graduate from high school.  However, with proper instruction they’ll also attend very good colleges and be very productive in the world economy,” Smith said. “Conversely without this specialized instruction they will become discouraged by their education. They will not reach their fullest potential and they’ll either leave Juneau to get that education or they’ll stagnate in our schools.”  

The committee will hear the school district’s financial proposal next week. Before the process is complete, another public hearing will be held then the group will come up with recommendations for the final budget.

The committee represents each of the 12 Juneau schools, education unions, and includes community members with no current direct ties to the district.



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