School budget committee begins the priority process

The Juneau School District’s budget committee wants a nurse in every building for the next school year.

The district cut two nursing positions in this year’s budget, but the committee Tuesday night said those jobs should be restored.  The Marie Drake building – where the  alternative high school meets – has not had a nurse for the last four years, but has Teen Health services available.

The 17-member committee represents each of the 12 Juneau schools, education unions, and community members.

It is working through a list of suggested changes to the administration’s budget proposal.  The nurse shortage came up during last night’s public testimony.

Luann Powers is the registered nurse at Auke Bay Elementary School.

“I’m just worried.  I want to support our nurses.  I don’t have any teachers that want to give insulin or be taken away to have to do things that somebody else should be doing because that’s their specialty,” Powers said.

Jenny Malecha’s son has type 1 diabetes.  She said she spends a lot of time in the school nurse’s office and sees how important it is for every student to have a “first responder” nearby.

“As a parent of a child with diabetes, I know how important it is to have nurses in every single school and it’s not for kids with complex medical needs, it’s for all the kids,” she said.

Malecha had the same message at last year’s school budget hearings, and apparently echoes the sentiment of the community.   When committee members were polled, adding nurses was the number one priority.  It would cost the district $153,000. The administration needs to cut $1.75 million from the fiscal year 2014 budget.  That’s on top of the $4 million dollars cut from this year’s operating budget.

The list of cuts includes instructional coaches in elementary schools, which would save the district $97,060.  Instructional coaches work with individual and small groups of teachers in each grade school.

Cutting the drug testing program for high school athletes and students in extra-curricular activities would save the district $45,475; eliminating bus service for Sea Week would save $13,045.

During the annual Sea Week, children in kindergarten through sixth grade visit the National Marine Fisheries Service Auke Bay Laboratories as part of their study of the ocean. The curriculum began in Juneau in the 1970s and has been taken statewide.  The National Science Teachers’ Association has named it one of the nation’s best science education programs.

Allison Smith is second grade teacher at Auke Bay Elementary School and was part of the program when she was a kid. Smith told the budget committee that the experience motivated her to take more science classes in college.

“If we do cut busing, yes there will be some schools and PTAs that can rise to the occasion and supplement that money, there will also be schools that cannot.  And if we really want to reach every student in our district, it’s important that we keep that funding equal for all schools because we stand to create a real disparity in the quality of life experiences that students have,” Smith said.

The budget committee has agreed that changes are needed to the administration’s plan, but for every addition, members must find another place to cut.  It’s a laborious process. As co-chair Brian Holst put it:

“We have a really long way to go.  We are many hours away from a recommendation to the Board of Education,” Holst said. 

The committee plans to have that priority list at the next meeting and is still taking email comments at budgetinput@jsd.k12.ak.us. The committee will recommend a budget to the Board of Education in March.