Juneau schools mark opening day with higher enrollment

(Photo by Rosemarie Alexander/KTOO)

(Photo by Rosemarie Alexander/KTOO)

It’s back to school Wednesday for 4,837 Juneau children. That’s about 50 more students than the Juneau School District expected.

Already, new superintendent Mark Miller plans to add a new teacher at Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School and a half-time position at Gastineau Elementary.

“It’s always good to have a few more students than you projected because we can bring on an extra teacher if we need to, but if you guess low, you’re going to kill your budget because you don’t get enough money for the students you’re staffed for,” Miller says.

Most school district funding comes from the state of Alaska and is based on the number of students enrolled in mid-October.

Enrollment was down last school year, resulting in less funding and major budget cuts.

Economist Gregg Erickson forecasts enrollment for Juneau schools. He says the city lost a number of state and federal government jobs early last year, resulting in fewer students.

“Typically you lose a student for every four jobs or so,” he says.

Juneau school buses are operated by First Student. School starts Wednesday, Aug. 20. (Photo by Rosemarie Alexander/KTOO)

Juneau school buses are operated by First Student. School starts Wednesday, Aug. 20. (Photo by Rosemarie Alexander/KTOO)

Erickson says current employment data shows Juneau is still in a small recession. He says that could affect enrollment through 2015, when it would start slowly growing again.

“In June of last year it appears we lost about 317 jobs over the previous year. The data I have now goes six months forward and it seems to suggest that those job losses have actually accelerated a little bit and that we’ve now lost more than 400 jobs,” he says.

When students take their seats Wednesday morning, they will be counted. The October numbers go to the state education department and are used for calculating the amount districts will get for school operations.  But the budget is written in March and the district doesn’t know the amount of state funding until the legislature adjourns in mid April.

Out of Juneau schools’ 661 staff members this year, 355 are teachers. That’s 18 fewer teachers than last year, but no one was laid off. The reductions were made through attrition, according to Kristin Bartlett, district chief of staff.