More job cuts expected to be announced for Anchorage schools

Rosemary Shinohara
Bill Roth

Anchorage School Superintendent Jim Browder plans to release his administration's first budget Friday, and it won't be pretty.

District officials have said there's a $25 million shortfall in the money that would be needed to continue programs during the 2013-2014 school year at the same level as this year.

The cuts will go deeper than last year or the year before, said School Board president Jeannie Mackie. "And they're all real. We're not expecting any new money. It's unfortunate."

Positions will be eliminated, Mackie said.

Neither Browder nor Mackie has said publicly yet how many jobs are on the line, how many of them are filled positions and which positions specifically are targeted.

"What we're going to do is reduce instructional support. There will not be any teachers in classrooms reduced," Browder said in an interview on KSKA Radio last week. "There will be some certified people (people with teaching certificates). Special education and curriculum services and nurses are in that category."

Browder was not available to comment Wednesday or Thursday, said district spokeswoman Heidi Embley.

Principals were briefed earlier this week and have been letting people in positions that are at risk know what's coming up, Mackie said.

The superintendent proposes the budget, then the School Board decides what to actually cut and what to keep. The Anchorage Assembly approves the total dollar amount and the amount of local taxes that will be raised to support schools. More than half of the funding is from the state.

The district expects a total of about $832 million in revenues, according to a November budget planning memo. Growth in salaries and benefits, particularly health care benefits, and flat funding resulted in the $25 million gap, the memo says. The district has about 6,000 employees and 48,000 students.

The School Board will hold public hearings on the budget Feb. 4 and 21, and will send it to the Assembly by March 10.

One problem for the district is that its budget year starts July 1 and the state funding level isn't set until a few weeks before that. Often in the past the district has received more money than it expected at the last minute. When that happens, the district can restore some of the items it had eliminated.

But Mackie said the district isn't expecting any extra money from the state this year.

The district may spend some money from its budget reserves to make up part of the shortfall, she said.

Teachers union president Andy Holleman said he's been hearing about some of the job cuts but doesn't have the whole picture.

The numbers of secondary school counselors, technical experts who advise teachers on using technology in classrooms, curriculum specialists, maintenance people, teaching assistants and administrative assistants are all expected to be reduced, Holleman said.

Vonnie Gaither, a career resource advisor at East High School, said her principal told her Tuesday that all the career resource advisors were being eliminated. She helps kids figure out what to do post-secondary school -- how to apply for college, for scholarships, for training programs and jobs. How to put together a portfolio.

She's not happy about it.

"Particularly here at East, a lot of the kids don't have the access or support," she said. "If they want to go to college, they don't know how to go about doing it."

Legislators want the district to do a good job, "but they're not willing to pay the price," Gaither said.

"At the school district level I don't think it's a made-up issue," Holleman said. "At the Legislature it's different. It wouldn't take a lot to keep his from happening."

At a time when the state is banking money, Holleman said, "We're cutting things that we know have education benefits for kids."

The upcoming job cuts will be the second round for the district this budget year.

In November, the district announced it had eliminated 100 positions under a reorganization aimed at saving $4 million.

But no one was fired as a result of the November reorganization, Embley said at the time, and the cuts did not directly affect full-day classroom teachers.

Instead, the district didn't replace some retiring employees or fill vacant positions.

The money saved in the reorganization will help make up the anticipated shortfall, Mackie said.

Overall, the number of jobs eliminated this year could total around 300 positions, including the earlier cuts, said School Board member Don Smith.

"I think the district can struggle through this," he said.

But Smith also said health benefit costs are rising too fast: "Benefits are climbing about 9 percent a year. That's frankly unsustainable."

This is Browder's first year as superintendent.

Reach Rosemary Shinohara at or 257-4340.