Anchorage School Board unanimously passes budget

Tegan Hanlon

The Anchorage School Board approved revisions to its 2014-15 budget Monday, reinstating scores of teaching jobs after the district received millions of dollars in unanticipated state and municipal funding.

In a unanimous vote, the seven-member board passed the revisions shortly before 9:30 p.m. after a more than two-hour debate on how to best stretch money, staff classrooms and allocate funds to charter schools.

"We know that the last several months that we've been through this budget process have been very taxing on our community, on our students and on our staff," Ed Graff, district superintendent, said to the board in his closing report.

Graff had announced his proposed budget revisions in a press conference Friday, adding about $25.26 million to the district's approximate $743.5 million budget. He proposed restoring 86 of the 143 teaching jobs chopped in the budget passed by the board in February. It took the board's approval to make the changes final.

The board proposed five amendments to Graff's proposal Monday night. All but one failed. The passed amendment decreased the percentage charter schools will pay next budget year into a district-wide pool for special-education services. It aimed to ease the transition into a new system established by the governor's omnibus education bill, said Mark Foster, the district's chief financial officer.

Some board members also took issue with the proposal to bring back a second planning period for middle school core teachers.

"In some respects middle school has a big target on its back because of this extra planning period," said Eric Croft, board president.

An amendment failed that would have added a second planning period for elective teachers, too. Another amendment failed that would have gotten rid of the second planning period altogether.

Despite the debate, the cut of 57 classroom teachers remained, a response to the district's budget shortfall of about $5 million. That translates into a loss of 29 elementary school teachers, 14 middle school teachers and 14 teachers in high school, according to the budget revisions.

The district originally projected a $23 million shortfall in January. But in April, the Anchorage Assembly increased its local municipal tax appropriation by $5.8 million and voted to discontinue billing the district for Anchorage Police Department officers in school district facilities. The Alaska Legislature bumped up the base student allocation, a per-student payment that funds 57 percent of the district's operating budget. Though, not by as much as the board had asked.

The district still cut non-classroom positions to balance the budget and laid off 39 teachers earlier this month. Some may be rehired if they qualify for a job that has opened up, said Heidi Embley, district spokeswoman.

"Our hands are tied," said board member Tam Agosti-Gisler.

The board did vote to allocate more than $20 million in three-year state funding to pilot programs.

Those three-year pilot programs include:

• Early literacy: The district will add 18 classroom teachers in kindergarten, first and second grade to support smaller class size and hire 12 early literacy coaches. Cost: $10 million.

• Pre-kindergarten: Pre-kindergarten offerings will be extended to three more schools. Cost: $6 million

• Science, technology and engineering curriculum: The district will expand the curriculum with new materials, kits and textbooks. Cost: $3 million.

• Classroom technology upgrade: The district will distribute mobile technology resources like tablets and laptops to teachers and students and pay for district-wide site licenses for software support. Cost: $3 million.

• Teacher training/evaluation: Professional development instructional tours will be expanded to at least 14 more schools. Money will also go toward teacher training and substitutes. Cost: $1.5 million.

Reach Tegan Hanlon at or 257-4589.