Anchorage — Anchorage school superintendent Jim Browder delivered bad news for school employees Friday: his 2013-2014 school budget calls for eliminating 215 jobs, including 100 vacant positions that were trimmed earlier in the current school year.
He said he hopes attrition will pare the number of people actually laid off to about 50 by the end of this school year.
The school district gets the majority of its money from the state, and Gov. Sean Parnell's proposed budget calls for the same level of funding for schools next year as this year, Browder said. With rising expenses, that leaves the district with a shortfall of about $25 million, he said.
Next year's proposed school budget totals $720 million, not counting a liability payment for state retirement programs for district employees. The state pays the retirement fund obligation.
Browder, with concurrence of the School Board, has proposed using about $7 million from a reserve fund to help bridge the gap. The rest will come from spending cuts.
Browder said he would meet with school union leaders and ask, "Is everybody willing to freeze salaries?"
"If we freeze all salaries, we wait another year" for cuts, he said.
Representatives of two big school unions were non-commital.
Anchorage teachers union president Andy Holleman, attending a National Education Association delegate assembly Friday at the Captain Cook Hotel, said the teachers contract is up June 30, so any freeze talks would be part of regular negotiations.
Some Anchorage teachers also attending the gathering are planning to picket the legislative offices downtown at lunchtime Saturday, Holleman said. "The message will be along the lines of increased funding."
It's not a union event, just a group of teachers, Holleman said.
Jacob Bera, an Eagle River High School art teacher who plans to picket, said legislators "need to really get into the schools" and see how their actions affect classrooms.
Goldenview Middle School librarian Nicole Roohi, also at the Captain Cook, said the budget announcement was a hot topic at an Anchorage caucus meeting at the NEA assembly Friday. "People seemed to be pretty upset."
Sharon Baker, president of the Totem Association, which represents support staff, said it's not a surprise that Browder would broach the idea of a freeze, but it's something members would have to vote on.
Both Holleman and Baker said they appreciated that Browder had begun the process of eliminating jobs early in the school year, so that attrition will take care of much of the problem.
For example, the district has already cut 49 special-education teaching assistants and 8.6 English language-learner tutors through attrition, Baker said.
The tutors help students who are struggling with the English language.
The teaching assistants work with children who have disabilities.
Browder said a comparison with districts elsewhere in the country showed Anchorage had more special-ed teaching assistants than necessary.
"We're still going to provide services identified in the IEPs (individual education plans)," he said. "A lot of TAs were doing clerical work."
About 80 teaching assistant positions will be cut altogether, of about 750 total in the district, Browder said.
"IT WILL BE PAINFUL"
Browder and School Board President Jeannie Mackie said at a news briefing Friday that they focused on keeping resources in classrooms and that there would be an increase of 24 classroom teachers.
Among the cuts:
- Seventy-six teacher assistants and tutors, including the 49 special-ed teaching assistants, 8.6 tutor positions for English language learners, and all 7.9 nurse assistant jobs. Library media assistants would have reduced hours, and would no longer be eligible for health benefits.
- Forty central office positions including experts in using technology in education, purchasing staff, curriculum and instruction staff, and others.
- Thirty-six building plant operators and custodians, and eight maintenance jobs.
- All eight high school career resource advisers, and all eight high school graduation support co-ordinators.
- Twelve counselors.
- Twelve teacher experts and consultants.
- Eleven school office staff members.
"It will be painful," Mackie said. "It's also an opportunity to do things differently. I see that as good news."
The district had expected to publish the actual budget online during business hours Friday but held back because some parts of it were not ready, said Heidi Embley, the district's spokeswoman.
The administration will present a budget briefing to the School Board at 2:30 p.m. Thursday.
The School Board will hold hearings on Feb. 4 and 21, and is expected to approve the budget Feb. 21, Mackie said.
Reach Rosemary Shinohara at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4340.