Board member Steve Whitney listens to budget discussion, Tuesday, March 26, 2019. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

Board member Steve Whitney listens to budget discussion, Tuesday, March 26, 2019. (Ben Hohenstatt | Juneau Empire)

A lot of talk results in little changes and a newly adopted budget

School board hashed out details before giving its new budget its final reading

Found money didn’t make budget discussions any easier for City and Borough of Juneau Board of Education.

Near the beginning of Tuesday night’s special meeting, Superintendent Bridget Weiss said more full-time middle school educators were budgeted for next year than are required based on the board-approved pupil to teacher ratio.

“In a sense, there were two positions in middle school on your sheet that you prioritized that based on the 23.5 PTR shouldn’t be there,” Weiss said.

That translates to about $215,000 that the board could decide to add to the district’s reserve or reallocate. The total expenditures of the budget that ultimately passed were about $71.12 million.

That generated some discussion among board members before the 2020 budget was given its final reading nearly two hours into the meeting.

Board President Brian Holst made a motion to cut the line item from the budget.

Holst said the reasoning behind the motion was that it essentially corrected an administrative mistake.

It passed after a few unsuccessful motions for amendments.

Board Vice President Dan DeBartolo made a motion to reserve the freed funds for ongoing labor negotiations based on comments from Juneau Education Association President Laura Mulgrew.

Mulgrew said during a public comment portion of the meeting the budget as proposed did not acknowledge ongoing negotiations with multiple unions and questioned whether the district was negotiating in good faith.

“I sincerely believe the district is negotiating in good faith,” DeBartolo said. “My intent is to acknowledge the good work that JEA and the other unions do. It’s not falling on deaf ears.”

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Board members Jeff Short and Steve Whitney said they opposed the motion to allocate the funds to that specific purpose because it would lock up money while the district faces financial uncertainty while waiting to see the budget passed by the state.

They and other board members also acknowledged the validity of Mulgrew’s point and said the district is negotiating in good faith.

“I appreciate that they took the comments seriously,” Mulgrew saud during a brief recess in the meeting.

Board member Kevin Allen and DeBartolo were the lone members to vote in favor of setting aside the money for negotiations.

After that motion failed, DeBartolo advocated for preserving spending on middle school educators, but that that did not gain traction.

Ultimately $215,000 was essentially added to the district’s reserve bringing the projected reserve to $728,836, according to the budget.

Short also made a motion to cut a budgeted integration specialist in the spirit of adding to the reserve.

“It’s the same sick feeling I had last year looking at declining budgets and having to make decisions that make me uncomfortable,” Short said.

However, the motion did not pass.

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The board also discussed at Weiss’ suggestion the possibility of leaving 1.5 full-time educators without designation instead of reserved for high school core classes until enrollment is in and the district’s needs are clearer.

“I’m very much opposed to that,” Whitney said.

His opposition stemmed from the sentiment that high school core teachers have a heavy workload and more core teachers are needed.

A motion for an amendment to the budget was not made, so there was no subsequent discussion and no vote was taken.

After the lengthy conversation, an amended similar to the one discussed at the previous board meeting was passed unanimously, or so it appeared.

During a short break immediately after the budget was passed, worries arose that the budget, which had been tabled at the last board meeting, had not been formally pulled from the table.

The budget was then un-tabled out of what Holst described as “an abundance of caution” and again passed unanimously.

“It’s done and then re-done,” Holst said.


• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.


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