The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District is asking for a lot of public engagement this month as it works toward an April 1 deadline to submit a budget for next year. The Board of Education held a work session last night, the latest in a series of meetings to work on a spending plan shadowed by anticipated big reductions from both the state and the borough.
Ideas were reviewed for places to make cuts, including tutor programs, reading enrichment, technology, transportation for the 5,000 bus riders and administration. And a mantra emerged, to protect class size above all else.
During public hearing, Michelle Goodwin testified that perhaps looking at closing schools might help small savings add up to bigger ones.
“If closing a building saves us money, we keep teachers. If keeping existing curriculum for a few more years saves us money, we keep teachers,” Goodwin said. “Invest in teachers. Commit to smaller class sizes.”
The board is pretty much committed to that. But if state reductions aren’t changed by the legislature, there’s no way teachers won’t be laid off. Superintendent Karen Gaborik posted her impact summary on the school district’s website for public review. Last night she showed the board how 234 district employees would be laid off, with class sizes ballooning to 42 kids per class in the high schools.
“My approach, I think the board’s priority is always to do class size last, but if the governor’s budget were to be the final budget, this is what we’d be looking at, class sizes upwards of 42,” Gaborik said.
Tonight, the Superintendent will show the board her layoff plan, which is also posted in the meeting agenda.
At last night’s public hearing, Richard Theilman criticized the governor’s proposal to allocate funds for a larger Permanent Fund Dividend but cut state services, including a 23 percent cut to statewide K-12 Education.
“I’m a republican, and I consider the PFD is a government handout,” Theilman said. “But this time around, especially if he gives me $3,000, I’m going to walk right in to your office and give it to you.”
The board has been focusing on sections of the district to make sure they are familiar with business as usual before taking services away. Last night they highlighted Special Education, Facilities Maintenance and a brief look at how much the borough might contribute to schools this year.
A resolution condemning the governor’s stripped-down budget has been introduced and will be up a vote later this month. Board President Wendy Dominique says she would like parents and community members to take advantage of legislative public hearings and letter writing to advocate for a budget like the current year’s.
“So if you can go and make comments to save our school district, that would be great,” Dominique said.
There will be a lot more opportunities for public testimony, including at any regular board of education meeting, like the one that starts at 6 p.m. tonight. There is a dedicated worksession scheduled for March 18, a regular meeting on March 19 and a special budget meeting on March 20, which is their target for passing the budget.