School Leaders Explain Plans To Deal With Budget Deficits

Local school leaders today got their chance to tell legislators how they are dealing with expected budget deficits for the next school year.  The hearings followed the Parnell administration’s presentation yesterday at the opening of the House Finance Committee’s week-long series of meetings focusing on Education.

With a goal of getting lawmakers to reject Governor Parnell’s insistence that funding not increase through a jump in the Base Student Allocation – a group made up largely of local school board members presented their arguments.   Teachers in the North Slope Borough have voluntarily taken a salary increase off the table this year, although Board of Education Clerk Mary Sage says it is difficult for the district to compete for new teachers.  She said in recent years, as many as fifty percent of their teachers have been new, and some schools have had turnover rates of 100 percent.

“The Alaska Rural Turnover Rate is approximately 30 percent. As a board, we have prioritized this issue of teacher retention and today it is 27 percent.  Remember we are recruiting teachers to live in the Arctic.  When we left Barrow is was 34 degrees below zero – and that does not include the wind-chill factor.  I have not had running water in over a week because the main water line is frozen.  And there are 45 homes with frozen sewer lines,” Sage said.

Sage says it’s hard to convince a teacher to go there when California is offering equal pay and $6,000 signing bonuses.

Eva Kinneeveauk of Point Hope said currently the principal for the school in her community is in his second year. She says that’s the first time in 11 years anyone has stayed after the first year.

She says the schools in her district are already having problems – and it’s the kids that are seeing results of the budget shortages.

“There are some things in the villages we can’t do. And one of the things is alternative schools.  In Barrow we have alternative schools and they reach maybe 50-60 kids a year.  But not only in our region, but throughout the state, I think of all the ones we cannot reach.  There’s a lot of kids out there that we are missing,” Kinneeveauk said.

Kinneeveauk says the North Slope’s biggest hope was in a state program that provided mentors for new teachers.  She said the program has now been cut from two years to one.  The other big goal is to get increased broadband networking for schools to teach specialty classes.

Kodiak Island School District’s Board President Melissa Borton said the $3.5 million deficit on the horizon for this year,  will mean a cutback in teachers and staff.

“We’re looking at a 40 position reduction in next year’s budget.  Thirty-two and half of those would be certificated classroom staff.  Six of those would be classified, two administrative staff,” Borton said.

Pete Hoepfner said the Cordova School Board – of which he is president – is looking at about a $300,000 deficit, representing 6 percent of that district’s budget. He said that reflects two years of flat state funding and the effects of 3 percent inflation.

“Our supplies are cut, teacher travel cut, student travel cut, professional services cut, electricity costs cut.  We do not have a head of maintenance position at this point in time. We are looking at a reduction of a teacher at the elementary school, and a teacher at the Junior-Senior High level.  In addition, we’ve lost in the last two years two exceptional science teachers, one the teacher of the year and an excellent English teacher,” Hoepfner said.

The governor has opposed funding schools through any increase to the Base Student Allocation – although legislation increasing money for that formula is working its way through the legislature. The governor has said he prefers to meet special, distinct needs such as energy and transportation costs.

The Education focus continues next with a discussion with the President of the state board of education.

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