School Board votes to restore some course offerings

Michelle Theriault Boots

Late Monday update:

The Anchorage School Board declined to restore all teacher cuts but did vote to bring back some world language offerings in schools where programs were eliminated and 1.6 art positions for Romig and Gruening middle schools, using a mix of one time and ongoing funding.

Earlier story:

The Anchorage School Board debated whether or not to use legislative funds to bring back 35 laid-off teachers late into their Monday night meeting.

"There is no magic to this," said School Board president Gretchen Guess. "It's all about difficult choices."

The board must decide whether to pull money from about $2.2 million in ongoing funding or about $9.3 million in one time funding to restore teacher positions, said Guess.

Much of that money is already spoken for, she said.

About 35 teachers as well as 20 support staff members received layoff notices this spring.

Board members reported that 15 of those teachers have been rehired into other positions.

In public testimony earlier in the evening the board heard from more than two dozen teachers, parents and students who asked them to reinstate laid off teachers with emergency appropriation from one-time funds.

Many testified that some schools has lost entire programs, like French language classes or art. Others appeared in support of specific laid-off teachers, like Steller Secondary School art teacher Lee Weiland.

In recent days teachers, parents and students organized a protest to ask the district to make bring the teachers back. The group, using the slogan "Restore 35" gathered more than 150 people on the downtown Park Strip on Sunday and Monday for a 35 hour sit-in to draw attention to the cause. Some camped overnight.

Holding off layoffs for at least a year with an emergency appropriation would give students and parents more time to ask the Legislature to increase funding, said recent Steller Secondary graduate Aryeh Lax at the Park Strip protest.

At Monday's meeting some wondered why teacher layoffs were happening in a state in relatively sound financial health.

"We are a state weathering the recession well and we have the resources to fund education," said Andromeda Romano-Lax, a Steller Secondary parent and an organizer of the Park Strip protest.

It would cost about $3.5 million to restore the 35 teacher positions cut, Guess said.

One full-time equivalent teacher position salary plus the value of benefits equals roughly $100,000 on average, she said.

In the past the district has used one-time money to reinstate positions.

That's not sustainable because rising expenses mean projected deficits in the future, Guess said. This year's deficit was $30 million. If revenue remains the same and costs rise, the next few years could see $20 million cuts, she said.

"One-time money needs to be used on one-time expenditures because we're driving off a cliff and we need to figure out how not to go off of it," Guess said.

The board has already dipped in to savings funds, she said.

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


By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS
Anchorage Daily News