Citing CARES Act funding, ASD School Board votes to restore funding for health educators

The School Board Meeting Room at the Anchorage Education Center was full of community members at the school board meeting February 18, 2020. The school board debated the Anchorage School District’s preliminary budget proposal. (Mayowa Aina/Alaska Public Media)

About 28 elementary school health teachers across the Anchorage School District were poised to lose their positions as a result of budget cuts. But new funding from the federal government’s coronavirus aid bill, the CARES Act, could be used to fund their positions. 

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, the ASD school board voted to use $3.3 million of their anticipated allocation to fund the positions through the next school year.

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The estimated amount the state will receive for elementary and secondary education from the Act is around $38 million. While the district does not know exactly how much money it will receive from the CARES Act, ASD’s chief financial officer, Jim Anderson, estimates the district’s share will be between $8 million and $11 million. Anderson said he had no objections to using the expected funds to restore health teaching positions. 

“Do I feel comfortable with a little over $3 million out of $8 – $11 million? Yes,” he said.

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Cutting the health positions was one of a series of proposals to help close a projected $20 million shortfall in the district’s operating budget for the next school year. 

A popular program for academically-gifted students called IGNITE and several security positions were also on the chopping block, but were saved earlier this year after hours of public testimony. 

Elementary health instruction was not.

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At the time, the instruction was still on track to be absorbed by P.E. and other classroom teachers, while dedicated health teachers would shift into other roles in the district.

But additional funding from coronavirus aid could restore those positions. 

Board President Starr Marsett voted against using the funding that way saying that the district should put any extra funds towards supporting mental health supports in the schools, especially elementary schools. 

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“Our students are facing some pretty harsh things at home, even my own grandson is facing some depression,” Marsett said. “Once this whole COVID-19 is over with, there’s going to be a lot more kids coming to school with some trauma, just with what they’re dealing with at home right now.” 

The memorandum for the funding passed with a 5 to 2 vote. Board members Marsett and Alisha Hilde voted against the funding.  

Anderson said the district should know the final amount of money it will receive from the CARES Act within the next two weeks.