School Board votes to reinstate equivalent of 4.5 teaching jobs

Michelle Theriault Boots

The Anchorage School Board will restore a handful of art and world language teaching positions eliminated by layoffs this spring using $445,000 in money from the state Legislature.

After hours of fervent testimony at Monday's School Board meeting from parents, teachers and students upset by this spring's layoffs of 35 teachers, the board decided to reinstate the equivalent of 4.5 full-time arts and world-language teaching jobs. The $445,000 will come from two pots of money: $9.3 million in one-time funds and $2.2 million in ongoing funds.

The reinstatements target situations where students would lose continuity from a program's disappearance or where art was completely eliminated from a school, said Jeannie Mackie, the School Board president.

"We have a commitment to offer a well-rounded education and we believe that includes art programs," Mackie said.

Some of the changes to the 2012-2013 Anchorage School District budget include:

• Using $140,000 in one-time funds, the district restored the equivalent of one-and-a-half positions to ensure continuity for middle school students taking a language that was eliminated by cuts.

That means Goldenview Middle School students who have been taking French since elementary school won't miss next year and end up entering high school back at beginning level French, said School District spokeswoman Heather Sawyer. But the 1.4 full-time equivalent, or FTE, position, which will likely be shared between at least two teachers, is set to be cut at the end of next year.

"It's a one-time thing," she said.

School Board members said they were reluctant to spend one-time funds on bringing back regular teaching positions because of the "uncertain nature" of that money.

• Using $160,000 in ongoing funds, Romig and Gruening middle schools, where visual art programs were completely eliminated by cuts, got a position and a half back to ensure some art classes will be offered.

The 1.6 FTE position will also likely be shared between at least two teachers, Sawyer said. It hasn't been decided how the time will be split between schools.

• The district also put $145,000 of ongoing funds into increasing teachers for middle and high school world languages and art.

The district hasn't decided which schools will benefit from that money, but Sawyer says it will be used to restore some positions and to ensure that no secondary school starts next year without any art offerings.

The remaining money from the Legislature went to items such as new high school biology textbooks, a $5 million K-8 mathematics program, School Business Partnership coordinators and repayments to the fund balance and equipment maintenance fund, which had been "raided" earlier in the year to avoid classroom layoffs, said former school board president Gretchen Guess.

"I think we came up with something very responsible with the limitations that we had and the way that we were funded," Mackie said.

This spring the district, facing a $30 million budget shortfall, laid off 35 teachers and 20 support staff.

So far 15 of the laid off teachers and six support staff have been placed into other positions with the district.

Monday's handful of restorations will further decrease the number of teachers laid off, Sawyer said, but the process of rehiring teachers has to wait until the Anchorage Assembly signs off on the revised budget in July.

Teachers who lost their jobs but saw their positions restored at Monday's meeting may not be returning to the schools they left.

Because of union contract rules, teachers can be bumped by seniority, meaning, Sawyer said, there's no guarantee that an art teacher laid off from Gruening will end up back there.

"We are going to do our best to return teachers to their home school," Sawyer said. "It may not always be possible."

Steller Secondary School parent Andromeda Romano-Lax was involved with a group that organized a 35-hour sit-in at the Park Strip and testified at School Board meetings asking the district to bring teaching jobs back. She said she considered the result a success, though Lee Weiland, the laid-off Steller art teacher who inspired the protest, won't be getting his job at the school back.

The protest, which drew more than 150 people, according to organizers, landed media coverage and raised the profile of the cause, she said.

"I'm thrilled we were able to get attention," she said.

With $20 million budget deficits projected for the next few years, School Board members have said there are likely more tough cuts on the horizon.

Parents and teachers need to plan on going straight to the Legislature to ask for more funding to avoid future layoffs, Romano-Lax said.

"It all comes down to long-term funding," she said. "I've always said that the School Board seems to be in the middle, they can only do so much if they don't have funding."

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at or 257-4344.

Anchorage Daily News