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Education

Anchorage School District plans to cut teacher jobs to close budget gap

  • Author: Tegan Hanlon
  • Updated: May 31, 2016
  • Published January 21, 2016

The Anchorage School District is proposing to partially close a projected $10.9 million budget gap by cutting 53 teachers next year.

The new proposed budget, presented at a news conference Thursday by Anchorage School District Superintendent Ed Graff, will spend nearly $562.4 million during the 2016-2017 school year. It would cut 80 teacher positions and increase class size by an average of one student.

But bracing for a projected increase in enrollment of more than 200 students, the budget also includes 27 new teacher positions, Graff said at the news conference.

"The reality is that there will be fewer teachers available to distribute to the schools and with fewer classroom teachers, specifically at the elementary level, there will be a corresponding reduction in the number of specialists," said Graff, who himself will not be returning as superintendent next year after the Anchorage School Board decided not to renew his contract.

This school year, the student-teacher ratio ranged from 20 students in a kindergarten class to about 29 students in a high school class, according to the school district.

Andy Holleman, president of the Anchorage Education Association teachers union, said he doesn't expect the cuts in teacher positions to result in layoffs. The school district usually loses more than 200 teachers between school years, he said.

But he said bigger class sizes can impact how much a teacher can do with students.

Other positions cut in Graff's proposed budget include a library resources clerk, two maintenance carpenters, a media production specialist and a teacher for gifted students, as well as three assistant principals -- one each in elementary, middle and high school.

This school year, there are 49 assistant principals, according to numbers provided by school district spokeswoman Heidi Embley.

The school district also plans to spend $1.5 million less on teacher salaries next school year because of staff with less experience who get lower pay. The proposed budget includes the elimination of $200,000 for teacher supplies and $41,000 for professional learning.

Additions to Graff's proposed budget include 15 special education positions, five new jobs to support students learning English and $150,000 for a director of security and safety.

The school district must also close a $2 million gap in its transportation budget, driven by minimum wage increases, Graff said. Over the next few months, the school district will look at eliminating routes and ways to generate revenue, he said.

The proposed budget presented Thursday still must be approved by the school board and the Anchorage Assembly. Graff said the proposed budget relies on the $50 increase to state per-pupil funding included in Gov. Bill Walker's proposed budget.

Kameron Perez-Verdia, school board president, said that he doesn't expect more than the $50 increase to per-pupil funding. If that amount stays, he said, he will consider it a success.

"It's just a very different time for us," he said.

Perez-Verdia said the budget is still in the very early stages and "there's a lot of discussion to be had."

Under the proposed budget, cuts to direct classroom instruction, which include classroom teachers, support staff and librarians, would return to 2012-13 school year levels. Since that school year, the administration's staff has taken the biggest hit -- down 22 percent with another 1 percent cut proposed for next school year, according to the school district.

School Board member Elisa Snelling thanked the administration for the proposed budget at the end of Thursday night's school board meeting, adding, "It's going to be a tough year and I know that."

"I know at the end of the day not everybody's going to be happy, but I appreciate the process," she said.

Last year, the school board approved a 2015-16 school year budget of nearly $569.1 million in general funds. In that budget, the district used $17 million in reserves to close a projected budget gap, the money stemming from funds that went unspent partially because the school district didn't hire as many teachers as it included in the budget.

The proposed budget presented Thursday did not include the addition of reserve funds.

"I think that what we've understood and realized is that we have a state challenge ahead of us and we want to be prepared for the future as best as possible," Graff said.

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