Juneau School District leaders discuss items to add back to this year’s budget during an online meeting Saturday. (Screenshot from Juneau Board of Education meeting)

Juneau School District leaders discuss items to add back to this year’s budget during an online meeting Saturday. (Screenshot from Juneau Board of Education meeting)

School board spends $3.6M in staff add-backs, nixes $1M CBJ loan after getting $5.2M extra from state

Members also consider new food service contract and first increase in school meal prices since 2020.

The Juneau Board of Education spent most of the extra $5.2 million expected from a one-time boost in state funding for schools on Saturday, voting to add back dozens of jobs at a cost of about $3.6 million and nullifying a $1 million loan approved earlier this year when the school district was facing a large budget deficit.

School board members also gave initial consideration to a new food services contract and a proposal to raise the prices of school lunches for the first time since 2020.

Staff positions added back to the budget for the fiscal year that started July 1 are intended to reduce some class sizes, provide additional support for specific programs such as reading assistance and special education, and increase staffing in non-classroom areas deemed priorities such as office assistants and technical services.

School board members opted not to spend all of the extra state money since, among other factors, there is no assurance the increase will carry over to next year. A one-time increase of $680 to the statutory $5,960 Base Student Allocation was signed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy at the end of June, but during the legislative session he rejected pleas from state lawmakers seeking a permanent increase to the formula.

“I kind of like this position,” said Emil Mackey, the school board’s vice president, during Saturday’s special board meeting that was conducted online. “It gets rid of the loan that we really don’t need at this point. What it also does is by not spending this money…it gives us a cushion going into next year. There’s no promise that this governor will ever sign another one of these one-time increases again…It also allows us the flexibility to take a look at what we really need after school starts — and we don’t see projections, but we see real numbers — and we can add additional positions or supports as necessary.”

Drastic cuts to this year’s budget, as well as last year’s, were made by the school board earlier this year due to projected deficits of nearly $10 million in operating budgets of nearly $80 million for both years. District officials constructed the budget assuming there would be no increase in state funding for the current fiscal year.

Some of the budget reductions involved a consolidation plan that puts Juneau’s high school and middle school students into one building each instead of two, and having the City and Borough of Juneau take over millions of dollars in maintenance costs for buildings used jointly by the municipality and school district for purposes such as recreational programs.

The add-backs do not reverse those actions — and the district is now required to wait at least seven years before it can seek to reopen schools closed by the consolidation. But the school board voted not to accept a $1 million CBJ loan approved by the Juneau Assembly, which had not yet been received by the district, and approved a 17-item list restoring specific staff positions after making a few minor adjustments.

Most of Saturday’s meeting focused on reading instructors, although they ranked near the bottom of the list in a priority survey of board members, based on previous discussions of add-backs by board members and district employees. The board approved $335,000 that — combined with a literacy grant providing four full-time paraeducators — ensures all seven of Juneau’s elementary school programs have a reading literacy paraeducator and a part-time certificated reading interventionist.

A total of 40 full-time equivalent positions (FTEs) are included in the add-backs, although the actual number of people affected is higher because some are part-time employees (i.e. two half-time employees count as one FTE). The funding approved Saturday includes $120,000 for “recruitment and retention investment plan” training for staff and $30,000 as a “reassigned certified staff stipend to unpack.”

While all of the items on the list were funded, the priority given to them by school principals surveyed differed considerably from the results for school board members. Among two of the most notable gaps were extra HomeBRIDGE staff (ranked first by the board and 15th by principals) and an extra part-time office assistant for all elementary schools (ranked 16th by the board and tied for first by principals).

The top add-back items as ranked by board members (with the principals’ ranking in parentheses) include:

1 (15): HomeBRIDGE certified staff, with 1.2 FTEs at a cost of $145,000.

2 (6): Secondary school pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) support, with five FTEs at a cost of $600,000. The list was modified from the original recommendation of three FTEs in a motion by board member Amber Frommherz that was approved unanimously.

3 (5): Special education paraeducators, with four FTEs at a cost of $266,000.

4 (3): Seven elementary-school paraeducators at a cost of $175,000.

5 (1): Elementary school PTR support, with four FTEs at a cost of $480,000.

The school board during the meeting also gave initial consideration to a one-year renewal of the district’s food services contract with NANA Management Services, which has provided meals and snacks since the 2019-20 school year, at an 8% higher rate compared to last year.

Included in the proposal presented by Superintendent Frank Hauser is increasing full-price student lunches to $5.50 instead of the existing $4.50 and adult lunches to $7.50 instead of $5.50. Reduced-price student lunches would remain at 40 cents.

Breakfast would continue to be provided free to students, while paid breakfasts for adults would increase to $4 instead of $3.50.

Hauser, in his presentation to the board, noted NANA would charge $7.34 per lunch and $4.31 per breakfast in the updated contract. While the reimbursement rates for this fiscal year have not yet been released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, during the past year the agency provided $6.90 to districts for lunches provided free to students, $6.50 for reduced-price lunches and $0.66 for full-price students lunches (with no funds for adult lunches). The USDA also provided $3.66 for free student breakfasts, $3.36 for reduced-price breakfasts and $0.58 for full-price breakfasts.

Among the comments by board members were concerns about the lack of bids from other companies and questions about possible improvements to existing food services. Paul Audette, the district’s food service supervisor, said he is working with NANA on upgrading some offerings such as the frequency of hot meals after they were reduced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The school board’s next scheduled meeting is Aug. 6.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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