Cuts to local schools will most likely be coming after the Juneau School District Board of Education opened up discussions on the first reading of the Fiscal Year 2019 budget during the regular meeting at Juneau-Douglas High School Tuesday night.
The budget, outlined by Director of Administrative Services David Means, showed cuts totaling more than $3.5 million on the total budget from last year’s. Some of the biggest cuts included in the first reading were: decreasing the amount of teachers and materials by $889,366 due to a projected decrease in enrollment; reducing middle school pupil-teacher ratio, high school core and lower elementary specialist by a total of $776, 616; and shifting high school activities directors and staff over to CBJ funding which will lead to a decrease in $405, 531 in spending.
The total proposed budget for FY 2019 is $70,914,772. FY 2018’s budget was about $72 million; FY 2017 was about $83.6 million and FY 2016 was about $85.6 million.
Means said enrollments were based on projection plans that have been used over the years. Other projections in the budget are assumptions that CBJ will help with funding and state allocations per student are raised by $100 to $6,030, according to Means.
“We are concerned with how realistic those (assumptions) really are,” Board President Brian Holst said after the meeting.
Thunder Mountain High School site council members Michelle Strickler and Susan Martin approached the board stating they were concerned the projections could be wrong and that could lead to problems at the school.
“It is becoming increasingly more challenging for our teachers,” Strickler said. “The PTR (pupil-teacher ratio) is already high. We want to offer more classes but we can’t (because of lack of teachers).”
Martin said she would like to see more fluidity with the schools.
“If more teachers are needed at TMHS, they should be there,” Martin said. “They shouldn’t stay at (Juneau-Douglas High School) just because they have always been there.”
The ratio of health assistants to nurses was also discussed after five comments provided by the public during public testimony. Lisa Peterson, a registered nurse for the district, told the board that possibly dropping two health assistants in exchange for nurses (due to attrition) should not happen.
“I value (health assistants) skills,” she said. “Several, if not all, exceed their requirements and they are vital to the schools.”
Superintendent Mark Miller assured the public that replacing two heath assistants with nurses would only happen if necessary due to attrition.
The board discussed the matter and decided the best way to handle that portion in the budget was to amend the ratio of health assistants to nurses from six to four to seven to three, thus giving some assurance to health assistant positions and more funding for something else possibly being cut.
Another topic Strickler questioned and the board discussed was the proposed cutting of $18,000 and removing free testing of the SAT, ACT and Work Keys.
“Why would we drop a test that helps provide further education?” Strickler said.
The board discussed the topic and board member Josh Keaton said he believes keeping the testing as part of the budget is necessary. Initially, Keaton wanted the funds — which would come from the change in health assistants to nurse ratio — to cover just SAT/ACT testing. However, after further discussion Keaton, and the remainder of the board, moved to use the funds to keep the testing.
This was the first reading of the proposed budget and no action was taken. Board members stated some of their other concerns and they will be included in discussion during the second and final reading on March 27.
Holst said cuts will have to be made no matter what changes between now and the deadline.
“Cuts are bad,” Holst said. “The best case scenario is that we get the funding we are expecting and the city can increase its funding.”
• Contact reporter Gregory Philson at email@example.com or call at 523-2265. Follow him on Twitter at @GTPhilson.