The end of the Juneau School District budget committee?

The Juneau School District Budget Committee votes on  priorities during a final meeting, held Tuesday night. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)
The Juneau School District’s advisory budget committee at its final meeting of the last budget cycle, and possibly its final meeting forever. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

The Juneau School Board started work Tuesday on a plan for putting together the school district’s next budget.

Among the proposals from Superintendent Mark Miller: Get rid of an advisory committee tasked with making budget recommendations to the board.

School board members didn’t directly oppose Miller’s plan, but suggested changes to increase public involvement.

“That’s my biggest concern, that’s my only concern,” said Brian Holst.

In the last budget cycle, Holst chaired the advisory committee on the chopping block. Now, Holst is the newest member of the Juneau School Board.

“There just seems to be a pretty severe reduction in opportunity for public input,” he said.

Even so, Holst and several other board members said they were willing to try the new approach.

In a blog post, Miller critiqued the advisory committee process. He said the committee is too big. The members are appointed by individual schools’ site councils, which fails to create accountability between the board and the committee, and can pull the focus away from the big picture.

Parent Josh Keaton told the superintendent and board that he opposed axing the committee and doesn’t think the plan will work.

“I question, isn’t that the point of the committee? To collect the opinions of the public no matter how far they differ from yours? Sure, there’s going to be controversy, but eliminating a public process that has the attention of the general public–and I believe that budget committee did have the attention and it was the single focal point for a lot of parents and the public to be involved–is not the solution,” Keaton said.

He also said relying on school principals and their site councils for budget input, as Miller proposes, is a bad idea. Keaton said principals have a professional conflict of interest: pleasing the school board, and critiquing their budget.

The advisory budget committee process began in 2009 and has evolved over time. But in 2009, longtime board member Andi Story said it was a good thing, increasing transparency and public participation.

Almost six years later, Story said there’s been progress on both of those fronts. She said the public’s understanding of the budget and level of detail in questions and input from the public is evidence of that.

“And this has increased to people asking more programmatic questions because the numbers are very clear about what things are costing and so we’re getting into weighing, looking at programs,” Story said. “And I think it’s also a reflection of 5 years of budget cuts. So yes, I think that we have, continue to have a very transparent budget process.”

But, she said, she’s willing to try budgeting without the advisory committee, too.

In addition to making site councils more involved, Superintendent Miller’s plan also calls for more budget-specific meetings and forums to educate the public and solicit input.

Miller said he will incorporate the board’s input on his plan and formalize it for a vote at the board’s Nov. 18 meeting. If the new process is adopted, it will used to develop the budget for the 2015-2016 school year.

Jeremy Hsieh

Local News Reporter, KTOO

I dig into questions about the forces and institutions that shape Juneau, big and small, delightful and outrageous. What stirs you up about how Juneau is built and how the city works?

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