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Standing-room-only crowd asks School Board to avoid layoffs

Michelle Theriault Boots

The Anchorage School Board heard testimony from an emotional, standing room-only crowd about recently announced teacher layoffs Monday night.

Teachers, parents and students asked the district to find ways to reinstate the jobs of some of the 35 teachers and 20 support staff laid off last week due to budget shortfalls.

The 2012-2013 budget is $6.2 million less than for this school year.

The district got another $10 million from the state budget signed by Gov. Sean Parnell last week.

So far, School Board president Gretchen Guess has said the funds likely won't be used for salaries because the money is mostly for one-time uses, meaning there's no guarantee the same cuts wouldn't have to be made next year.

This is the first time in decades that teacher layoffs of this scale have gone forward, said the union's current president, Jim Lepley.

In 2003, 177 School District employees were pink-slipped but the cuts were rescinded when additional funding from the state came through.

Andy Holleman, the incoming president of the Anchorage Education Association, a teachers' union, asked the board to "reach into the one-time money and keep us going."

He got a big round of applause from a crowd made up of evenly of teachers, parents and students.

The School Board heard testimony from more than 40 people on Monday night. Most were upset about layoffs and program cuts.

Chris Ruggles, a West Anchorage High School gym teacher, spoke about moving from Utah to Alaska for the job with his young family only to be laid off six months later.

Tina Bernoski, a pink-slipped counselor at Eagle River High School, talked about the students waiting at her office every morning.

She said she had participated in suicide interventions over the course of the year and worried about the impact losing a counselor would have on the school.

"This isn't about me having a job," she said.

Nearly a dozen Steller Secondary School students spoke in support of their art teacher Lee Weiland, a first-year teacher, acrobatics coach and weight-lifting instructor the school was set to lose due to cuts.

"We won't stop until we get him back," said Bridget Galvin.

Others raised concerns about entire programs -- like French classes at Goldenview Middle School or visual art at Gruening Middle School -- wiped out by cuts.

Arts, counseling, world language and English as a second language programs took some of the biggest hits, Lepley said.

ASD superintendent Carol Comeau said principals had to make tough decisions with their allocations using a complex formula of seniority, student enrollment in course offerings and other factors.

No final decisions on how the $10 million in state money will be used are to be made until at least the June 11 School Board meeting, or after two new School Board members officially take their positions.

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com or 257-4344.


By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS
Anchorage Daily News