Budget volatility

School Board Issues

Budget volatility

Candidate Responses

All photos by Michael Penn/Juneau Empire

The state’s ongoing budget issues have had considerable impact on schools in terms of budget and teacher hiring. What can the district do to offset the effects of unstable budget conditions?

Kevin Allen

Candidate for School Board

We have been in recessions before, but this one is important because we are facing it right now. A good couple years ago the board decided not to seek a grant writer. Seeking temporary grants would help lift off a small portion of pressure, just what the district needs to explore other opportunities like Pre-K, activities funding, and additional academic resources.

Brian Holst

Candidate for School Board

We need to have the ability to create reserves so that we can handle changes in the budget smoothly. This past year, we increased our target ending fund balance by $500,000 to $1 million, so that we could better weather a future fluctuation in student number or a cut to our budget by the State. This proved to be a wise move, as it appears that a decline in student population this current year (we had an increase the previous year) can be handled without resorting to cutting staff. We will need to work with the Assembly so that they commit to fully funding our schools, including when enrollments go up. And we need the Assembly to understand that it is in the best interest of the Juneau School District and our community for the district to be able to accumulate a responsible level of reserves that can be tapped into if/when needed. Currently, the district has no multi-year reserves. Within the context of legal limitations on how much we can receive from CBJ for our schools, there needs to be Assembly support to help/allow the Juneau School District to develop prudent reserves.

Jeff Short

Candidate for School Board

Alaska’s retirement plan for teachers is now one of the worst in the country, and the legislature’s habit of not passing a budget until the last minute means the best teachers available have already taken jobs elsewhere. Also, the current budget climate precludes meaningful increases in pay. About all that’s left in the near term is to improve the workplace climate to make successful teaching more personally satisfying, more publicly recognized and more highly valued by the community.

Conducting a survey through the Juneau Education Association of workplace satisfaction for teachers would be a good first step toward identifying low-cost/high-return changes that could make the practice of teaching more enjoyable. Giving teachers more latitude in how they meet their curricular goals would not only increase professional satisfaction, it would likely improve the quality of instruction and academic achievement as well. Identifying highly effective teachers and promoting them as leaders of professional learning communities would also be helpful.

Longer term, the school board should work with the Alaska Association of School Boards to seek legislative relief from the adverse effects of the Tier III Teachers Retirement System and Tier IV Public Employee Retirement System, and to hold school districts harmless for hiring decisions that do not cause the budget to exceed prior year spending.

KTOO solicited the candidates’ answers by email. We’ve edited their written responses for typos, grammar and news writing style — but not for length or substance.

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