Public comment at Tuesday night’s meeting of the school district budget committee was mostly against a new elementary language arts curriculum, a $600,000 line item.
Elementary teacher Paula Kalbrener says the district already has a large amount of language arts materials that meet the common core standards:
“A lot of them are the same materials that we’re finding in the new curriculum adoption, which is pretty and shiny, but you still have to have the basics of teaching down to teach reading, and I think that the most effective way for us to improve our literacy in the district is to have experienced teachers helping new teachers with the methods that have worked.”
Juneau School District Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich says a new elementary language arts curriculum would add consistency. Currently, not all the schools use the same curriculum. “The different approaches from one school to another, one classroom to another isn’t producing the kind of success for kids across the board,” he says. “Our effort here is to honor that teachers are going to make decisions about which things they use or don’t use on a day-to-day basis, but that our instructional strategies would be familiar enough from one classroom to another, whether it’s across the hall or across town, that a student would recognize it.”
Gelbrich says 35 to 40 percent of students are not meeting standards.
Budget committee member Jennifer Lindley says with such a huge budget shortfall, the district should be investing in teachers, not curriculum:
“How many teacher positions can we afford to keep in lieu of spending that money on curriculum? I believe in our teachers and I feel if we spend this money on curriculum and reduce the amount of teachers in Juneau, we’re taking a real gamble. And what happens if the curriculum doesn’t give us the results that we’re seeking?”
Despite overwhelming testimony from the public and budget committee members against a new elementary language arts curriculum, Gelbrich says support for it does exist:
“There are a remarkable number of educators in our school district who are clamoring for this kind of support for their instruction. We haven’t heard from them.”
Last year, the budget committee approved $300,000 toward a secondary language arts curriculum.
Teachers set to vote on tentative contract
On Tuesday, Juneau Education Association and school district negotiators signed the tentative decision reached a week ago.
JEA spokesman Dirk Miller says a meeting to ratify the contract has been scheduled for next Wednesday. Then the proposed contract will go to the school board for approval.
Miller says it’s disappointing the term of the contract is only two years.
“Even if we ratify this, the school board ratifies it, we’re going to have to go back into negotiations pretty soon for the next contract, so it would have been nice to get a three-year deal,” Miller says. “There is a cost of living increase. We give up one personal leave day, we get some help with health insurance, but not nearly enough to offset the rising cost of health insurance. So there are some pluses and minuses, and members will have to take a really close look at it and come up with a decision.”
Miller says the JEA negotiating team is glad to finally have an agreement both sides could sign.
I think what they’re saying is ‘this is what we can get in this economic climate.’
Juneau teachers have been working without a contract since June. Negotiations on the tentative agreement began a year ago.
Cost of the agreement
The school district faces about $4.5 million dollars in budget cuts. Superintendent Glen Gelbrich told the budget committee Tuesday night the district would need to find a little more than a quarter-million dollars to cover the cost of the teachers’ agreement.
“It comes with implications, not just for JEA members but for other employee groups to the tune of $230,000, so the figure that we now have is 4.78 million,” Gelbrich said. “So there’s an increase to our commitments that are assumed for next year.”
If the legislature were to adopt Gov. Sean Parnell’s proposal to increase the Base Student Allocation by $58 dollars per student next year, Gelbrich says it would bring the district about $740,000 in additional revenue.