ASD Superintendent Announces First Cuts Through Attrition

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

The Anchorage School Board discussed the district’s finances over lunch at King Career Center Tuesday. Anchorage School District Superintendent Jim Browder made his first big announcement – cuts. He says ASD is eliminating 100 positions to save more than $4 million. But the district is keeping all of its teaching positions.

The board has been focused on developing a long range fiscal plan with new Superintendent Jim Browder since he replaced longtime superintendent Carol Comeau in July. He and the board face a $25 million shortfall next school year. The layoffs, he says, will save the district more than $4 million.

“Our goal is that no classroom teacher is reduced. Now, there’s instructional support folks that would be considered classroom teachers that are on the other side. But our hope is that through attrition, everybody will have a job,” Browder said.

The positions being eliminated include teaching assistants, tutors and secretaries. Financial staff positions and some director level positions are also being cut. Many of the cuts, Browder says, are based on recommendations from the Council of Great City Schools’ organizational audit.

“We’re gonna deploy better, more efficiently. The Council of Great City Schools said that we had more teacher assistants than any of our comparables. So we’re gonna step back there and make sure that the teachers have the things that they need,” Browder said.

Sharon Baker is the President of Totem, the Union that represents non-certified education support workers  – the ones that Browder says are most likely to go. She says she’s happy none of her workers will lose their jobs this time around, but she says the move worries her.

“Just because a position has been vacated and not filled, that doesn’t mean the work is going away. The other people working are going to have to pick up the slack. So everybody is going to feel the results of these cuts,” Baker said.

The positions being cut became vacant in July and were not filled. So nobody will actually be getting a pink slip.  School Board Member Gretchen Guess said the cuts are geared toward protecting students and teachers.

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

“If we continue the current budget process that’s very siloed and is ‘well we spent this much last year and therefore everyone look at your budget and decide how they’re gonna spend this year’, we’re not gonna get to where we wanna go strategically. We have to flip the process on its head. We need to start with, ‘who are the students in the classroom and what are the resources they need,” Guess said.

The meeting was also a chance for Browder and the Board to introduce their priorities for next year’s legislative session. Browder says with less federal dollars streaming into the district, ASD hopes to secure adequate state funding. East Anchorage Representative Les Gera told the Board and Browder to be ready to make a strong and honest case for funding to legislators.

“I would hope that you would come down and say, ‘this is what we need to have a vibrant school system to make up for maybe the teacher layoffs that were caused last year or the close in summer school that was cause last year and some of the programs you had to cut. Earlier years when I was in the legislature school boards would ask for what they thought they could get from the legislature. And then they would get that amount and it would be an inadequate amount and the legislatures would say, ‘we gave you what you asked for, how come performance hasn’t gone up?,” Gara said.

Browder says he and his staff will present a more detailed fiscal a plan to the board in mid-December and have a final budget in the new year, when they will also begin lobbying the legislature for funding. Browder says he will work to deploy people and resources more efficiently to avoid overburdening employees. But a leaner workforce is the new reality for the Anchorage School District. He anticipates more cuts throughout the remainder of the year, but  reiterated that he will do all he can to keep teachers off the chopping block.

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Daysha Eaton, KMXT - Kodiak
Daysha Eaton is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network. Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage. Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email. Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.