The Anchorage School District is considering cutting more than 200 jobs. Officials rolled out the proposed 2013-2014 budget on Friday at the Education center.
No classroom teachers are recommended for elimination, but many positions that support teachers are. Officials are quick to point out that the proposed cuts were done strategically, with more than half through attrition. Officials say flat-funding from the legislature is to blame, coupled with increases in negotiated salaries, health care benefits, utilities and fuel.
“While funding has remained flat, our costs are rising. This has created a $25 million gap to fill. While this sound like horrible news – and it is – it’s something that none of us enjoy being faced with. It is painful and it will be painful, there is opportunity that we have within our problem to do things differently,” School Board President Jeannie Mackie explains.
What will be done differently, Mackie says, is that, for the foreseeable future, resources will be focused more on the classroom and on teachers and students. But much of the web of support they’ve grown accustomed to will disappear. About 40 administrative support positions were the first to go, but most of the proposed cuts are to positions that support teachers – including teaching assistants, councilors and library assistants. A number of those who work more indirectly supporting teachers and students, like nursing assistants and custodians were also eliminated. About half of the positions were eliminated in earlier cuts, and most of those were managed through attrition. Superintendent Jim Browder says he’ll continue that strategy.
“Approximately 217 positions is what we’ve had to reduce. Through attrition, there’s 112 that have already occurred, leaving about 100 positions. We fully anticipate and hope that through attrition we’ll get that down to about 50, ah 50, 60 positions where there are employees actually in them,” Browder said.
Other reductions include $3.4 million from supplies and equipment district wide, a 50 percent reduction in travel and a $150,000 reduction in school registration costs.
Andy Holleman is with Anchorage Education Association, the union that represents many of the certified employees impacted by the cuts. He acknowledges that the District is not to blame.
“The school district is responding to the flat funding from the legislature. I don’t think anyone on the school board and I know that Dr. Browder thinks these cuts are a good idea, but there absolutely is an impact in the classroom,” Holleman said.
Still, Holleman admits that benefits and pay increases for workers are contributing to the budget crunch and he says he expects them to be discussed at upcoming union negotiations. Along with the budget, the District handed out a packet outlining their comprehensive, multi-year plan to increase student achievement, which was developed in 2012. The plan aims to get 90 percent of students proficient in reading, writing and math, improve attendance and increase graduation numbers. Duane Moran is president of the Anchorage Council of Education, another union representing support staff. He’s concerned that all seven of the graduation support coordinators in the district are slated to be cut, eliminating an entire program.
“While they are not in the classroom, they have a tremendous positive impact to students. The ones that are most at risk of not graduating. So that’s where the cuts, as a community, we don’t want them to fall on the economically disadvantaged or the special needs students disproportionately, but the concern is that they may,” Moran said.
Moran questions whether teachers can achieve the lofty goals of the district’s comprehensive plan without support staff. Superintendent Browder will present his administration’s budget recommendations to the school board at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 24 in the Education Center boardroom. The board will vote on the budget on Feb. 21.
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