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ASD lays off 39 teachers; most expected to be rehired

Michelle Theriault Boots

The Anchorage School District began notifying 39 middle and high school teachers Tuesday that they are being laid off. 

But the head of the union that represents the teachers says he believes all but a handful will end up keeping their jobs in the district by the time the next school year starts in August.

The layoffs are small compared to the sweeping cuts predicted in January by district Superintendent Ed Graff. Back then, the ASD faced a $23 million shortfall and said it planned to eliminate 159 teacher jobs.

Many of those positions were absorbed by attrition, said district spokeswoman Heidi Embley.

More relief is on the way. The district can expect an additional $18 million from appropriations and cost savings offered by the Legislature and the municipality, district finance chief Mark Foster said.

That money should narrow the budget gap to $5 million and allow the district to restore some of the jobs it is pink-slipping.

Because of a quirk of timing, the district can't legally take its new funding into account until after a May 14 state deadline to tell tenured teachers if their positions are being eliminated, Embley said. As a result, ASD began notifying teachers of the job losses with the understanding that some -- but not all -- positions may be "recalled" over the summer.

Teachers notified starting Tuesday include science, social studies, math, business, physical education, photography and health classroom instructors, according to a district list. Three counselors are being laid off, too.

Next week, the district will release recommendations of which positions it hopes to reinstate, Embley said.

The Anchorage School Board will consider the recommendations -- and the lobbying of students, parents, staff, teachers and public testimony -- and make decisions about which positions to bring back beginning May 19.

Classroom teacher jobs are expected to get priority from board members.

Andy Holleman, the head of the Anchorage Education Association teachers' union, said he thinks that fewer than five teachers will remain laid off by the start of school in August.

The broader issues that put the ASD deeply in the red -- state and federal funding not matching pace with inflation, combined with rising costs -- haven't disappeared.

The base student allocation, set by the Legislature, represents the single largest source of funding for the district. This year, legislators offered an additional $150 per student to the formula in 2015 and $50 in each of the following two years.

Overall, the Legislature offered about a third of the money the district would need to continue its current level of staffing over the next three years, said Foster, the finance chief.

That leaves the district and School Board facing a familiar but delicate calculus: how many jobs to bring back now knowing that, without a major about-face from the Legislature, another fiscal hole is likely next spring.

"They can restore a limited number of position cuts and have some degree of stability, or they can come closer to continuing the district as it is at the moment but face a funding crisis next year again," Holleman said Tuesday. "Simple logic favors the first position, but that means cutting a lot of resources for students in the fall. But it's also a duty to deliver the best possible district to students you can each year."

The district also expects to eliminate 57 non-teacher support staff positions, Embley said. There's no date yet on when those layoffs will be announced.

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

 


By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS
mtheriault@adn.com