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Anchorage School Board OKs budget that cuts teaching jobs to close budget gap

  • Author: Tegan Hanlon
  • Updated: September 30, 2016
  • Published February 18, 2016

In a meeting that lasted less than five minutes Thursday, the Anchorage School Board passed a preliminary budget for next school year that cut about 67 full-time teaching jobs and three assistant principal positions to partially close a nearly $11 million budget gap.

But Kameron Perez-Verdia, school board president, said he expects to revisit the budget again before the end of the school year after the state Legislature — facing a multibillion-dollar budget gap — decides on school funding.

"I think we passed a budget based on what's in law and we're going to move forward with that," Perez-Verdia said about the budget crafted around a $50 increase in per-pupil funding from the state, which was included in the omnibus education bill passed by lawmakers in 2014.

Thursday's quick 5-0 vote followed a flurry of budget amendments passed by the board Tuesday at its regular meeting before they voted to postpone a final decision on the budget. Board member Pat Higgins, who proposed pushing back a vote so the board could spend more time with the financial information, did not attend Thursday's meeting because of a family emergency. Board member Eric Croft was traveling for work, Perez-Verdia said.

The board's amendments ultimately trimmed about $2.1 million from the budget proposed by the Anchorage School District administration. It now totals about $768.4 million in "managed funds," which includes the general fund, transportation fund, food service fund and others. That total is nearly $5 million less than this school year.

Jobs cut and added

Perez-Verdia said it's too early to know whether the teaching jobs cut will result in layoffs or if the jobs will be eliminated through attrition. Andy Holleman, the Anchorage Education Association teachers union president, has said that between 200 and 400 union members typically leave the school district each year.

With fewer teachers in the district next school year, class sizes will increase. The preliminary budget accounts for an increase of one student per class, but Superintendent Ed Graff said that number will vary school to school.

Other positions cut include one full-time job in the IGNITE gifted program, which could result in delays in eligibility testing, the budget said. The budget also cut a library resources clerk, two carpenters and three assistant principals — one each at the elementary, middle and high school level. There are currently 49 assistant principals across the district, according to the budget.

The budget includes funding for about 15 new full-time special education positions and about five full-time jobs to support students learning English. It also included $150,000 for a director of security and safety — a position added this school year — though the board passed an amendment Tuesday eliminating $150,000 from the operations and maintenance departments to offset the cost.

The board's amendments also trimmed an additional $80,000 from the communication department's budget, putting that money toward teachers, and cut $50,000 from the district's travel expenses.

Increase in next superintendent's salary

Meanwhile, Perez-Verdia said the board is moving forward with the search for a new superintendent after announcing in October that it would not renew Superintendent Graff's contract. The board entered into a $31,000 contract with Iowa-based Ray and Associates to conduct a superintendent search.

The company recently posted an advertisement for the superintendent's position online, listing the job's salary as "in the range of $235,000 plus an excellent comprehensive benefits package." That's a jump from the $180,000 Graff currently earns. He also gets $73,263 in benefits, according to numbers provided by Heather Marron, a school district spokeswoman.

Perez-Verdia said the board was advised that the superintendent's current salary range was "extremely low" and it would be difficult to recruit anyone.

"We chose something that we felt was both competitive, but more within the range that we felt was reasonable for us," Perez-Verdia said. The application deadline is listed as March 14.

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