Facing declining enrollment, Harborview could lose a teacher next school year

Harborview Elementary School
Harborview Elementary School in Juneau. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Harborview Elementary School will lose one teacher position next school year. That’s because the Juneau School District is predicting a small drop in enrollment.

Principal Tom McKenna said this is continuation of a trend. Last year, with fewer students to serve, the school reduced its teaching staff from 12 to 10, not counting teachers in the Tlingit Culture, Language, and Literacy Program.

McKenna said the school will make things work next school year with nine teachers.

“But the impact is, I think, more intense as we get smaller,” he said. “So a shift in staffing, if you’re a large school, you can absorb that shift in more ways than you can if you’re a small school.”

For Harborview, that shift will likely mean more combined-grade classrooms and class sizes of up to 30 students — or even more for some grades.

The district allocates teachers to each school based on an ideal student-to-teacher ratio. McKenna said the city has worked hard to keep that ratio low, but it has crept up under budget pressure.

Harborview Elementary School principal Tom McKenna in his office on April 18, 2019. (Photo by Zoe Grueskin/KTOO)

“If you look over 10 years, we’ve been put under strain by even those small increases. So we’re small enough now that we’re really vulnerable because of the cumulative budget picture,” he said.

If more students than expected show up at Harborview in August, there is a chance the district would then add another teacher. That’s what happened this school year, and McKenna said it was a scramble: The Friday before school started, they still weren’t sure how many teachers they would have.

For now, McKenna said the school is preparing for both scenarios, drawing up multiple schedules and class configurations.

“Teachers would ideally love to spend the summer prepping, knowing what they’re teaching, but we have to do everything with the contingency that we might get that better allocation,” McKenna said.

McKenna said it is a huge help when families register their kids well in advance of the next school year. He especially encourages parents of incoming Kindergartners to contact their elementary school and enroll now for the fall.

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