I’d like to thank you for electing me to serve on your Juneau School District Board of Education. As just one of seven voices, I’m proud to take on the awesome responsibility of guiding the education of our future leaders, entrepreneurs, tradespeople and citizens.
I’m addressing you because I need your help. When Gov. Mike Dunleavy released his budget, my heart broke. All around the state there are board members, parents, teachers, administrators, volunteers and students who understand that public education is our future. And many of them go above and beyond working hard for that future.
Public education is where we start to home-grow our communities’ educators, engineers, scientists, nurses and leaders. I can speak to this because I went through the public education system here in Alaska from start to finish, and graduated from the University of Alaska Anchorage. I know I’m not alone, and many of you reading this are also Alaska grown and educated. We are a young and growing state, and now more than ever we need this growth to continue.
The governor’s budget proposes to gut $300 million, or 24 percent, from the state foundation funding for education. This reduces the Base Student Allocation (the per student rate) to approximately $4,800, a rate we haven’t seen since 2006, when gas was less than $2 per gallon. Our share of this cut in Juneau would be a little more than $9 million. This reduction also lowers the maximum local contribution by approximately $2 million. It’s effectively an $11 million cut from our $75 million operating budget. And that’s before you get to school buses, school debt reimbursement and the pre-kindergarten program.
Where can we as a district accommodate a 19 percent cut in our budget?
Since joining the Board of Education, my eyes have opened to the myriad of federal, state, and private grants and partnerships that already support our students. Our City and Borough of Juneau Assembly funds us to the maximum it’s allowed to by state law. Yet, our schools are understaffed. We don’t have enough course counselors to guide students along a path suited to them.
In our middle schools we’ve recently cut Career Technical Education and behavioral counseling staff in half, and we don’t have enough substitutes or full-time teachers. In multiple schools, the principals are stepping into the classroom either to substitute or teach a course.
A sophomore at Juneau-Douglas High School recently told me he had 39 classmates in his English class last year — and that’s just his class. Imagine being the teacher who has to grade 40 high school English papers. Imagine still having to find time to prepare an enriching and engaging lesson plan each day. And don’t forget this is only one of the six classes you teach. This teacher clearly deserves a medal, but sadly this case isn’t the exception, it’s the rule.
As we start our own budget discussions at the Board of Education, school principals aren’t just telling us what programs we need to save from further cuts — they’re telling us they’re already overwhelmed by a lack of adequate funding and need funding added back to their budgets. Finding any way to increase funding was already going to be an impossible task for the board as we face declining enrollment and stagnant funding from the state. We absolutely cannot afford to lose another $11 million.
This is where you come in. As a board member, I have a voice. As a parent, teacher, uncle, aunt, grandparent, older sibling or community member that values the education of our students, you too have a voice. Use it to call others to action: community members, legislators, any or all of the 58 other legislators. Go to your schools’ site councils and network with other concerned parents, teachers or administrators.
You elected me, and empowered me with a great responsibility. Please join me in fighting for our schools and our future.
• Paul Kelly is a member of the Juneau School District Board of Education. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.