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Education

Anchorage School Board cuts dozens of teaching positions, and the situation could get even worse

  • Author: Tegan Hanlon
  • Updated: February 22
  • Published February 21

The Anchorage School Board on Tuesday unanimously passed a budget for next school year that cuts dozens of classroom teaching positions to partially close a $15.3 million budget gap.

The seven-member board voted on the budget after about 30 minutes of discussion at its evening meeting, leaving the document crafted by the district administration largely unchanged.

Assuming the state Legislature doesn't decrease or increase per-pupil state funding, the $563.6 million general fund budget for the 2017-18 school year results in the net loss of about 123 "full-time equivalent" positions, including 99 teachers, to save about $7.2 million total.

"This budget document is not as rosy as I would like it to be, but it's the circumstances that we are in — when you have flat revenue and increasing expenditures," said Anchorage School Board member Kathleen Plunkett. "We're not going to be able to do everything that I know we would all love to do."

Several school board members said during Tuesday's meeting that they anticipated returning to the budget in coming months once the Legislature agreed on a state budget.

The district created the budget passed Tuesday around the assumptions of enrolling 270 fewer students next school year and state funding remaining flat, as suggested in Gov. Bill Walker's budget proposal.

However, Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, said in an interview Tuesday that public schools should brace for a 5 percent cut to the $1.3 billion the state spends in unrestricted general funds on education.

Anchorage School Board President Tam Agosti-Gisler said in an interview after the board meeting she was hopeful the flat per-pupil funding would remain in next year's state budget, paired with additional transportation funding.

About the 5 percent reduction, she said, "there will be consequences for those cuts that will be felt by our students for many years to come and there needs to be some deep reflection on what our values are and what our responsibilities are for our children."

Other positions cut in district budget include the equivalent of about 16 full-time classroom and special education teacher assistants, three full-time counselors, 14 full-time safety and security specialists and four full-time assistant principals.

Positions added include about 17 full-time elementary secretaries as well as about 48 full-time elementary school instructional coaches, funded by federal grant money.

The district also plans to close the budget gap by using $4 million in savings to keep 40 additional teaching jobs.

Michael Graham, district chief academic officer, said in an email Tuesday that principals will work with their directors to determine what specific teaching positions to cut. Changes could impact class sizes at the elementary level. In middle and high schools, some classes could increase in size and the number of class offerings could decrease, he said.

Only two people testified at Tuesday's board meeting about the budget.

Sharon Baker, president of Totem Association Educational Support Personnel board of directors, said she had concerns about reducing the number of secretaries at the middle schools and high schools, while Michael Bronson with the Anchorage branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People asked the board to create a plan in the budget to raise the academics of students behind when it comes to state education standards.

Tom Klaameyer, vice president of the Anchorage Education Association, said in an email Tuesday that the teachers union was "definitely concerned about the potential impacts of reducing school staff, both inside and out of the classroom."

"We are all keenly aware that the ASD budget deficit is a byproduct of the state's fiscal crisis," he said. "Years of flat educational funding, in a world of rising costs, equates to reduced educational funding in real terms."

Klaameyer said most of the union's members were taking a "'wait-and-see approach" to the budget given the unknowns about state funding.

The board passed a single budget amendment Tuesday pulling $195,745 from expenses that are no longer expected to occur and putting that money toward teachers to address changes in fall enrollment.

The Anchorage Assembly will have its first reading of the district budget on March 7 and vote on the budget on March 21.

Alaska Dispatch News reporter Nathaniel Herz contributed to this story.

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