The Best Starts for Juneau pre-kindergarten pilot program is not receiving funding from the city this year.
The City and Borough of Juneau Finance Committee did not approve the $2.18 million request which would have been spread over Fiscal Years 2019 and FY20. The goal of the two-year pilot program was to give childcare providers financial incentives to increase teacher wages, improve learning environments and adopt new curriculum.
“We don’t have room in the budget,” Assembly member Beth Weldon said at the Finance Committe meeting Wednesday. “Until we can determine what we want to remove from our budget, we have to dip into our savings. It just does not make sense.”
The request did not pass by a 3-6 vote. Assembly members Jesse Kiehl, Rob Edwardson and Loren Jones voted in favor of the project while Mayor Ken Koelsch and Assembly members Jerry Nankervis, Maria Gladziszewki, Mary Becker, Norton Gregory and Beth Weldon voted against it.
While opposing that city spending go toward the project, Gregory and Gladziszewski each suggested the program be placed on the October municipal election.
“If it were on the ballot, I would vote for it,” she said.
Joy Lyon, Executive Director of Association for the Education of Young Children of Southeast Alaska, who was part of the group that pitched the program on May 3 expressed her disappointment about the program not being funded.
“I do not know how much longer our children can wait,” Lyon said. “I don’t know how much longer our kindergarten teachers can wait to deal with kids that are behind. We worked really hard to get to this point. We will continue to working. It is a long road getting something new (approved).”
According to the Alaska Department of Education and Early Childhood Care and Development, 32 percent of kindergarten students in Juneau demonstrate 11 of 13 goals determined by the department as “kindergarten ready.” Those skills range from communication to social interaction to general knowledge.
Finance committee chair Jesse Kiehl said he supported the program and that by being elected officials, the public has decided on who should make decisions on major issues.
“It falls on us to make the decisions,” Kiehl said. “We had to make decisions tonight and some are tougher than others. This is one of those things that can have a huge impact on our community. I think this is really important for our families.”
Finance Committee approves funding toward economic advancements
The Juneau Economic Development Council will have a little more funding to work with during the upcoming fiscal year.
During Wednesday’s Finance Committee meeting, an increase of $25,000 to the JEDC base support and a one-time boost of $75,000 was approved. The base support was approved unanimously and brings that level back to the FY13 and FY14 amounts. The one-time amount was approved by a narrow 5-4 vote.
“JEDC got great support from the Assembly,” Brian Holst, Executive Director at JEDC, said. “We really appreciate the Assembly’s support for economic development and excited to be able to move forward.”
During the JEDC’s presentation on April 18, four main areas were discussed. The JEDC said it would focus the additional funding toward Juneau entrepreneurship, pursuing ocean/maritime industries, promoting Choose Juneau — an informational website helping to bring people to Juneau — and visitor industry growth.
Holst said he would bring the amount given to the JEDC board and from there a decision on where the additional funds would go toward.
“The four areas we identified are important, but it may be better to concentrate on one or two items at this time,” Holst said. “We will take in back to the board and let them make that decision.”
Gladziszewski, who was one of the dissenting votes, said during the discussion about adding the additional funding to JEDC that she does not like spending additional funding out of the fund balance.
“These are all very difficult decisions” Gladziszewski said. “We don’t have money to do everything.”
There was discussion on whether the city could decide what JEDC would do with the funding, but decided not to add that portion to the approval.
Assembly member Loren Jones said it was his personal opinion that the funds should go to visitor growth and Choose Juneau.
Mayor Ken Koelsch said he believed the funding should be directed toward pursuing the ocean/maritime industry growth.
“I think maritime is the key to this,” Koelsch said. “I think it should go there or trust JEDC to make the right decision.”
Finance Committee moves Juneau School District budget to Assembly
The Juneau School District budget was also officially moved to the Assembly and will be discussed during the Monday, May 14 regular meeting. The district requested added $280,000 to approximately $1.4 million more to its funding request from the city and and it was was approved unanimously during Wednesday’s meeting.
“This community really supports education,” said Holst, who is also the Juneau School District Board of Education President. “We are in a difficult time with because the state has been limited with their ability to fund schools. It is just wonderful to see that the community of Juneau understands fully the value of our schools.”
Other funding approvals that will be sent to the Assembly for final approval include:
• $140,000 for the Juneau School District to add one more Kinder Ready classroom. Kinder Ready is a preschool program at the school geared to prepare children for kindergarten.
• $75,000 for both FY19 and FY20 toward Downtown Business Association.
• $200,000 for funding two additional police officers. “We want to send a message to the community that we support our police force,” Gregory said.
• $35,000 funding toward police recruitment budget.
• $75,000 toward cold weather shelter. The shelter was also approved in October 2017 at the same cost.