School district mulls what to cut next

During the public school board budget meeting Tuesday evening at the Juneau-Douglas High School library, Superintendent Mark Miller addressed the sparse group consisting of school board members, principals, teachers and a few parents and said there had been a shift in how the budget was being thought of — it’s not a question of what to cut but what would be needed to keep the school doors open.

Miller said the school district started with a basic budget consisting of the sum of mandatory expenses and basic operational expenses, which came out to be $60,114,362. The idea is to ensure the essentials for keeping schools open is covered and then add more expenses from there until the budget hits the total amount that can be spent.

“Our challenge, quite honestly, is if we rolled our current budget over into next year with nothing different, just roll this year’s budget into next year and do exactly what we’re doing now we’d be about $1.2 million short,” Miller said.

Several school principals took to the podium to speak on their individual school’s expenses and what budget cuts mean to them. Of the principals who spoke (others are planning to speak at the Monday, Feb. 8 meeting at Thunder Mountain High School), a common theme arose: There is not much to cut without sacrificing services and resources for students.

Kristin Garot, the principal of Homebridge, talked about how they had already moved from full-time to part-time staff which made it harder for homeschoolers and their parents to make contact with them when they need assistance. If Homebridge shuts down, Garot said she believes most of the students would enroll in another homeschooling program instead of going to one of the public schools.

Principal of Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School Molly Yerkes pointed out how besides school activities being cut, $30,000 had already been cut from the school’s building budget.

“The building budget pays for things like new library books … all of the little day-to-day things that you need — pencils, binders, copies, things like that,” Yerkes said. “I have really struggled with teachers coming to me and saying, ‘My computer works great but the cord that goes to my computer is busted,’ and I just look at them and say, ‘I’m sorry, maybe do a fundraiser,’ because our budget is so tight we can’t pay for little things like that to keep the basic things in our school going.”

Principal Paula Casperson said the Juneau-Douglas High School staff have absorbed previous cuts, increasing duties for staff while cutting hours, but wasn’t optimistic about being able to stretch further.

“We are at the point this year where really any cut will impact kids and kids in the classrooms. Simply put, we’re desperate to hold onto to any FTE (full-time equivalent) we have,” said Casperson, who mentioned JDHS really needs a second high school counselor.

This last statement was echoed by JDHS math teacher Ricky Bass who rose to speak three separate times about the needs he has seen at the school, such as having a second counselor so students receive the guidance they need and classes beyond the cores subjects to keep students engaged. He also warned about how layoffs will probably affect those with lowest seniority and the least pay.

To close the evening, Miller mentioned the possibility of a grant writer coming under contract with them to find funding while school board member Lisa Worl mentioned the schools do accept donations.

The community can give their own input into the Juneau school district’s budget by contacting budgetinput@juneauschools.org.

• Contact Clara Miller at 523-2243 or at clara.miller@juneauempire.com.

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