ASD passes amended budget, adds back in teacher positions

The Anchorage School Board voted to increase the 2014-2015 school budget by $26.5 million on Monday night, which takes the total up to almost $770 million. With the additional money the district will only lose 57 teachers instead of 143.

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Monday night’s discussion of next year’s school budget focused on the best ways to use the limited funds to help all of the students. School board members debated a number of topics, including the value of planning periods for middle school teachers. They ultimately agreed that teachers for core subjects like English, math, and social studies need time to work together as team.

Other conversations revolved around the importance of summer school. Board member Kameron Perez-Verdia asked should the district use the money planned for updating the ageing science materials and curricula to fund summer school programs instead? The board decided against it.

School Board member Pat Higgins said they tried hard to limit the impacts of the budget shortfalls and balance the needs of different groups.

“I think the board attempted to the extent possible to keep it out of the classroom. They tried to keep it out of middle school. They tried to keep it out of elementary school with classroom sizes. We tried to put it back into the system for kids with special needs. We tried to do everything possible using the extra funds we’ve got to lessen the impacts so the kids would be successful and the staff would have the resources. We weren’t able to put everything back. But I think at the end of the day people would say we tried to be fiscally responsible and put kids first.”

Higgins said the education funding cuts could get even bigger in the future and lead to much larger class sizes and potentially fewer schools. “We have got to really educate the public and educate the legislature what it means not to fund public education.”

The board also amended the budget to provide charter schools with an additional $1.27 million from the fund balance. The money was granted in response to community members who said the district’s seven charter schools need the money to help pay for their facilities. The fund balance is the school district’s safety net, but Mark Foster, the district’s Chief Financial Officer, said withdrawing that amount for the charter schools is within reason.

Other funds will go toward three-year-long, high value pilot projects, like early literacy programs, pre-K classes, and upgrading classroom technology.