Anchorage School District Set to Lay Off More Than 200

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA - Anchorage.
Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

Tuesday, the superintendent of the Anchorage School District announced how he will trim $23 million from the district’s budget.

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The cuts are mostly the result of several years of flat funding from the State of Alaska that does not keep up with inflation and cuts to federal grant programs along with rising health care costs. The district will cut more than 200 positions, including classroom teachers.

Everyone knew the cuts were coming, but they became real as Superintendent Ed Graff stepped up to the podium in the Anchorage School District Board Room to talk about the details. With a heavy voice he put it like this.

“These reductions are unprecedented, unlike anything I’ve seen in my 23 years in the Anchorage school district. For the last two years we faced gaps of $19 and $25 million. This year we face a $23 million dollar funding gap,” Graff said. “Having to restructure reduce and eliminate positions to address gaps of this magnitude every single year make it difficult to gain traction and jeopardizes our momentum to address the success of our students.”

Graff recommended cutting 219 positions, more than half of them teaching positions. Administration and support positions will also be eliminated.

Over the course of the past four years, the district has reduced its budget by nearly 500 full time equivalent positions which amounts to roughly 718 employees. That does not include the positions slated for elimination in the coming year. Graff says the district will also change the school day for high school and middle schools.

Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA - Anchorage.
Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage.

“In an effort to offset the loss of teaching positions but still provide opportunities for students, the district is proposing to move comprehensive high school from a six-period to a seven-period schedule,” Graff said. “Middle schools are already on a seven-period schedule but teachers will move to teaching six of seven with the elimination of the middle school team planning time.”

Graff says the student-teacher ratio will go up. Specialty counselors, which were spared last year, are on the chopping block again. Non-staff cuts include sports travel and classroom materials, while student activity fees are expected to go up.

ASD School Board President Tam Agosti-Gisler says the impacts of the budget shortfall are deeply concerning. She says the board is calling the community to action and explained that concerned citizens should press legislators to increase the base student allocation and find a long term formula to fund education sustainably.

“At the very least we would like to have the BSA inflation-proofed and help from the legislature on our biggest cost drivers which are health care insurance and the unfunded retirement liability,” Agosti-Gisler said.

Graff will present the proposed budget to the Anchorage School board in the Anchorage education Center board room Thursday at 4pm.

Public testimony will be taken and the school board will vote on the budget. Graff says he will issue pink slips in May.

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Daysha Eaton is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network. Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage. Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email. Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.