Going into 2014, the Anchorage School District faces more budget cuts.
The gap is big: $21 million, caused four years of flat funding from the governor combined with general cost of living increases. The School Board recently held three community meetings to gauge what the residents value as the district approaches the next round of cuts.
At the community meetings, participants heard an overview of the budget situation for the district. Then they answered multiple choice questions with a clicker. They also broke into small groups for discussion, kind of like a focus group.
Shanna Zuspan with Agnew Beck Consulting, the firm hired to conduct the research, recently briefed the Anchorage School Board on highlights of the meetings.
During the meetings participants were asked to rank programs by importance.
“The top point getters were Science, Social Studies, Career Technical and reading and writing,” Zuspan said. “And then in that same conversation there was a discussion about class size and participants were asked to decide whether that was important to education and 81 percent of participants combined thought it was either very important or important.”
The next set of questions was about staffing levels and where to make cuts. Forty-five percent of participants wanted to see cuts made to district wide support services, then building and ancillary support services and building leadership support. Instructional support and classroom instruction came in last.
Zuspan says the majority of participants preferred isolating the budget cuts to specific areas rather than across the board. But they also said this:
“In the small groups or in the report out sessions people did mention that isolating cuts to more popular programs would be a way to be an effective tool to engage more people in the community and kind of get them riled up and participating more,” Zuspan said.
Participants also discussed how cost cutting could impact sports and student activities.
“One of the questions that was asked was how important is student athletics to your educational experience,” Zuspan said. “And combined about 81 percent thought it was very important or important. And there was a series of questions getting at how that should be paid for.”
Zuspan says they asked participants what portion of the cost of participation in sports students and their families should be responsible for. Ten percent of respondents said players and families shouldn’t pay anything, while 16 percent said 100 percent of the cost should be paid by players and families.
The district will incorporate suggestions from the community conversations into the budget development process. The district also has an online suggestion box on their website.
Superintendent Ed Graff will present a balanced budget proposal to the Anchorage School Board in February.