The Anchorage School Board passed their preliminary 2013-2014 budget Monday (2/4) night after hearing testimony from the public.
The public packed the Anchorage Education Center to testify about proposed cuts to support staff at the Anchorage School District. Many testified that school counselors should not be cut.
“Since Christmas the Anchorage School district has has three student suicides. My job is to intervene and its a critical role in student safety. The argument will be made that these crises can be handled through community resources. Unfortunately crises cannot be scheduled and this is is very unrealistic,” Tracie Ashman, a counselor at Dimond High who works with many special education students, said.
Kim Duke has worked as a counselor at ASD Elementary Schools for six years. She says counselors are needed, even for the youngest students.
“They have parents divorcing, family in jail. They have been emotionally, physically and sexually abused by those they should be able to trust. They have lost parents to illness, accidents, illness, suicide and crime. Sometimes they consider harming themselves. Interviewing elementary students for a suicide risk assessment is a sobering experience. Some as young as 5 have told others that they wish they were dead. Others have considered using kitchen knives to stab themselves. These are both situations that I have dealt with this year,” Duke said.
Students also testified. Ebony Brown, a senior at Service High School said high school counselors should not be cut because of the critical role they play.
“If you’re gonna make budget cuts, don’t cut counselors. They’re like the mom’s of high school. They have the soothing words. They can calm people down and they can take charge like a mother would. And their little Lion cubs, they want to see them succeed and progress in the educational world,” Brown said.
Emily McKenzie who is the IGNITE gifted program at Baxter Elementary said she was worried about cuts to the program which has become so important to her learning.
“At IGNITE we get to learn a bunch of things that we don’t get to learn in our normal classes like I got to go to the Body World Exhibit and do a unit on the brain, which I didn’t get to do in my normal classes. And Ignite shows kids different ways of thinking from different kids at different schools and if we stop bussing and cut things in IGNITE then kids wouldn’t have that opportunity,” McKenzie said.
Susie Whitehead is a school nurse at Dimond High School. She testified in support of nurse’s aides.
“Why we need nurse aides, number one: documentation. Without thorough and complete documentation ASD is more vulnerable to lawsuits. The Nurse Aide documents every student who walks through the nurse office door. This allows the school nurse to spend more time thoroughly documenting the students for whom he or she has to provide significant intervention. In a word it’s a liability issue. Eliminating nurse aides exposed the district to increased risks, not to mention bad outcomes for students,” Whitehead said.
Jessica Stern is a teacher at the newcomer’s center. She said she is concerned about cuts to English Language Learner Counselors, especially where she works.
“In our situation at the Newcomer’s Center, we have a counselor whose official duties are counselor and teacher in charge. We have no designated principal and our director is off site. Without having a counselor at the Newcomer’s Center basically you’re a ship without a captain. And I would not be able to teach from when the bell rings to when it stops if I don’t have a counselor their to support me,” Stern said.
Liane Minster spoke in support of Career Resource Counselors.
“The quest for information about colleges, financial aide, scholarships – it’s overwhelming. The CRC staff is as much a resource to the parent as the student. I’m going through this daunting task myself with a senior and I realize the value of these resources in the CRC. It is a full-time job and it directly impact the opportunities our graduates will have for post-secondary education. And may I remind you that when our kids lose, we all lose,” Minster said.
Dale Miller spoke out against cuts to the ASD warehouse and maintenance departments, where works.
“Cuts to preventive maintenance only increases cost down the road. If we’re looking to the taxpayer when we bond for major maintenance we ought to at least be showing them that we’re being responsible and that we’re going to maintain the investment up front,” Miller said.
In all, nearly 50 people testified. The School Board passed the preliminary budget 6-1, with Tam Agosti Geisler the only nay vote. School Board members tasked the Superintendent and his staff with answering a dozen or so questions they had about the budget within the next few days. School Board President Jeannie Mackie said, despite the impassioned testimony of so many, that she did not expect to make many amendments to the budget. The School Board will take their final vote on the the budget on February 21st.
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