The Anchorage School District’s proposed $770 million budget for next year includes 24 new teaching positions and only cuts four administrative positions.
Superintendent Ed Graff presented the proposed 2015-2016 budget to the school board on Monday. He says the administration is focused on putting money toward improving student engagement and maintaining small class sizes, and the decision to hire more teachers was in response to community input.
“We took a lot of time working with staff, talking to the community, principals, about what their values were and what they need to make that happen,” he told reporters during a press briefing. “And it came out repeatedly that class size and maintaining stability in our schools was a priority.”
Graff says overall enrollment is expected to drop by about 200 students, though elementary school enrollment will increase slightly. But, he says the district will need to hire more teachers for all levels in order to maintain small class sizes for the lower grades and to prevent secondary school teachers from being relocated to other schools.
Graff says the budget numbers are based on the expected revenue promised in last year’s education funding bill HB 278. The bill includes both an increase in Base Student Allocation and special one-time funds that are currently being used for programs like literacy coaching and preschool.
The budget does not account for the governor’s proposed cuts to education funding. That could reduce the district’s revenue by up to $12 million in state and local funds.
Some of the district’s savings will come from cutting four administrative positions and plans to spend less on fuel and on broadband costs. The district will also redirect $17 million of this year’s unexpected fund balance to next year’s budget. It will close most of the originally expected budget gap.
Andy Holleman with the Anchorage Education Association says the proposal to hire more classroom teachers will help everyone and increase morale.
“What they’re doing is hitting some of the really large classes and bringing them down. That helps everything go further. And, yeah, we think a highly-qualified teacher in a reasonably-sized classroom is the best use of money.”
But Holleman says he doesn’t think the district will necessarily be able to hire those new teachers or retain the current ones.
“Things are kind of tough right now. We’ve had a lot of programs go away, TAs go away. Middle school elective teachers have lost team planning time and in a lot of cases they’ve picked up a lot students that they see every day. So in the upshot from that is, it’s still difficult and kind of grim. But finding out that it’s not going to get appreciably worse is always better.”
He says he thinks many teachers will leave Anchorage for the Lower 48.
The proposed budget also includes money for technology and curriculum upgrades.
The School Board will take public testimony and discuss the budget on Monday Feb. 2. They’ll continue the conversation and vote on the final version on Thursday, Feb 19. It will then go to the Anchorage Assembly for approval.