School district’s budget priorities could cut cultural education resources

Depending on how much funding the Juneau School District gets, items like cultural education paraeducators and middle school activities could be at risk of getting cut. The Juneau School Board approved a list of prioritized spending items at Tuesday night’s special meeting.

This was the next step in this year’s budget process, which is different than in recent years. Instead of starting with a budget that’s too large and looking for things to cut, the district is starting with a bare bones budget and prioritizing what items can be added back depending on how much revenue it receives.

The basic budget totals around $60 million. It’s made up of what the district calls mandatory expenses and basic operations, including teachers, special education, principals, the charter school, support staff, insurance and utilities. Board members and the superintendent were then given a list of 69 additional items to rank in importance.

How many items the district will get to add back will depend on how much funding it gets from the state.

If the Alaska Legislature passes a Base Student Allocation of $5,880 — the current year’s level — the district will be able to add back about $3.4 million worth of items. If the Legislature passes a BSA of $5,930 — as planned in an education reform package passed in 2014 — the district will be able to add back about $3.9 million worth of items.

At the $3.9 million level, K-2 grade classrooms would grow by an average of 0.5 students, 3-5 grade classrooms would stay the same, middle school classrooms would grow by an average of 0.5 students and high school classrooms would grow by an average of 1.25 students.

At the $3.4 million level, high school classrooms would grow even larger by an average of 1 student. Class sizes in other grades would stay the same.

Additional add-back items included at the $3.4 million level are elementary instructional coaches, Career Technical Education teachers, high school counselors, curriculum materials, elementary extended learning, high school activities director, Tlingit Culture and Language Literacy Program support teachers, AVID and an elementary art specialist.

“Then the question is, what can we can add if we get the extra $50 in BSA, which is $12 million in a state budget of $6 billion?” JSD Superintendent Mark Miller said. “We could bring back our cultural education paraeducators, who have made a big difference to our success rate, especially of Native students.”

Other add-back items at the $3.9 million level are middle school Native Success support, about half the middle school activities, drug testing and high school intramurals.

“That’s the way I would do it given the $3.4 and the $3.9 million cut lines. One of the things I tried to do is keep the cuts away from the classroom as much as possible and still allow us to implement most of what we want to do,” Miller said.

If the Legislature doesn’t approve the $50 BSA increase, Miller said one of the biggest impacts would come from not adding back the cultural education paraeducators.

“That hurts,” Miller said. “That was a very difficult call to make on where to put that.”

School board member Lisa Worl said she was sensitive to cuts that affect the district’s most vulnerable populations, like those students who benefit from the cultural education paraeducators and the middle school Native Success support.

Worl said local, private and nonprofit organizations invest money into the schools “and they expect to see something equitable, a true partnership and commitment on our behalf.”

About the prioritized list, Miller said, “It’s a living document. We’re getting more and different information everyday. This is a very turbulent time in budgeting in Alaska.”

School board member Andi Story added, “We have heard in visits to the Capitol building that there could possibly be more proposed cuts to education.” 

Miller will bring the list of approved priorities to the Juneau Assembly on March 7. The district plans to finalize the budget at the end of March.

• Contact reporter Lisa Phu at 523-2246 or lisa.phu@juneauempire.com.

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