Juneau School District Superintendent Bridget Weiss, center-right, talks to students as they re-enter Floyd Dryden Middle School on Jan. 11, 2021, the first day of hybrid learning after nine months of distance learning due to COVID-19. The extended break from full-time, in-person learning has meant enrollment changes for the district, which has resulted in reduced grant money. On Wednesday night, the city Finance Committee unanimously agreed to transfer $56,646 to the Juneau School District to help shore up fiscal year 2021 coffers. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Juneau Finance Committee agrees to transfer money to Juneau School District

The money will offset reduced grant money.

The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Finance Committee unanimously agreed to transfer $56,646 to the Juneau School District at its meeting Wednesday evening.

If the full City Assembly approves, the transfer will help offset reduced grant money resulting from a decrease in enrollment this year and help shore up the school district’s fiscal year 2021 position. Enrollment numbers have fallen as families have sought alternatives while full-time, in-person learning has been on hold due to COVID-19.

Superintendent Bridget Weiss joined the committee meeting by Zoom and asked for the funding.

“It’s our practice to come to you when there’s a local contribution that’s allowable,” Weiss said. “We are looking at every way possible we can support students and families. As we move into recovery, we know the needs are great. The cost of running school in a pandemic is expensive, and recovery needs are going to be extraordinary, not just for one year but for many years.”

Lower COVID numbers mean more school options for Juneau students

Weiss acknowledged that the city had previously contributed federal COVID-19 relief money to the school and outlined how school officials spent the money.

“Our CARES funding was spent on devices, personal protective equipment, air purifiers, air scrubbers and technology,” she said. “We had to put our whole system on high tilt. We’ve tried to take every allocation of funding and move it toward helping the school district. All funds have been allocated down to the penny.”

Weiss said that the school district is looking ahead to next year’s budget and is facing a potential shortfall. She said the district is establishing spending priorities for next year and looking for additional funding sources for this year.

“We are scouring for every dollar possible. We are trying to put ourselves in the best position possible. If we don’t get this $56,000, it’s one less thing we can do,” Weiss said.

Summer break to include school for some Juneau students

Enrollment challenges

The extended break from full-time, in-person learning has meant enrollment changes for the district, with about 410 students moving to the district-supported HomeBRIDGE program rather than the 35 students the program typically serves. Another 500 students have left the district for other home school programs, school officials told the Empire in February.

However, surveys of the families of contacted former students indicate that many plan to return in the fall.

“A HomeBRIDGE survey of families about plans for next year revealed that 74% of respondents intend to return to a Juneau school next year. A survey of families who left the district for another school option this year shows that 50% of those families intend to return to JSD next year,” Juneau School District chief of staff Kristin Bartlett said in an email last month.

Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-480-4891.

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