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Alaska can't win by cutting education

  • Author: Deena Bishop
    | Opinion
  • Updated: April 24, 2017
  • Published April 24, 2017

Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop. (Bill Roth / Alaska Dispatch News)

As a longtime educational leader, I have the opportunity to talk with various Alaskans from Rotary and Chamber events, to sporting and academic competitions, and to social and political engagements, as well as personal, neighborly discussions. In my 26 years as an educator, I have never found a time or place where anyone denied the value of an education. Even in our state capital where the ax is about to fall on public education, I have not heard any talk devaluing education.

So why is it that we, as a state, are about to drastically devastate the public education offered in Alaska? From K-12 to university, the actions of the state Senate will severely and negatively impact education. Every citizen in our state should be asking, "why?"

I want the community to know that we in Anchorage School District have already organized our priorities to work within the parameters of the governor's and state House's plan for flat funding. In an economy of increasing costs, especially in health care and benefits, we at ASD found ourselves with a $15 million gap from fiscal year 2017 to operate similarly in fiscal year 2018. The Anchorage School Board understood the role we needed to play as Alaskans in this tight economy and passed a budget in February which reduced expenses by $15 million. To meet this charge, programs were reduced and 120 full-time equivalent jobs cut. It was done in a way to have the least impact to students and their families.

However, the proposed Senate budget of a 5 percent reduction keeps us wondering how education in our state will survive this recession. Given that 90 percent of the district's budget supports employee salaries to do important work, and that 79 percent of our budget goes directly to instruction — significant and negative changes in our programs and student outcomes will be the result of further reductions. In Anchorage schools alone, a 5 percent reduction is a $27 million shortfall (in addition to the $15 million that the board already addressed in February) — which equates to an additional 200 to 240 positions which will need to be reduced. All totaled, the loss of jobs for next school year would be upward of 350 personnel who support ASD students daily. The proposed reductions will impact all areas of ASD educational programming: administrators, teachers, support services, courses, technology and many opportunities for students.

Alaska Dispatch News recently reported on the job prospects for graduates from 2005. Education was the key to employment of students 10 years out of school.  Education will continue to be the key as we move into an even greater knowledge economy. Alaska as a whole will suffer the consequences in our workforce, our health care and our well-being if the proposed cut in education from the Senate becomes law.

We must ask, "Why would our political leaders, in an effort to improve our state's economy, annihilate public education — the key to Alaska's future?" I am one who stands for the good in people and the possibility of a successful future for every Alaskan. Within public education, our students — our Alaska citizens — are able to learn the skills needed to be college- and career-ready. Students with a high-quality education can pursue college or career opportunities to become gainfully employed, earn a livable wage and contribute to the Alaska economy.

The recent discussions of reducing public education in a time of economic uncertainty simply do not make sense. Economies flourish when investments are made to engender innovation, education and entrepreneurial endeavors.

I encourage you to hold Anchorage School District to the highest outcomes of success. Continue to demand that we perform effectively as well as efficiently. I have often used the phrases that school districts "use other people's money and take care of other people's children." I take this to heart. As superintendent, I must show a value in our state and city's investment; I must provide a return to Alaska. I am willing and able to meet this challenge. Ask our state leaders to work with our public schools to provide the resources for students in Alaska to be successful, contributing members of our state. Do not sell Alaska's students short.

Deena M. Bishop is superintendent of Anchorage schools.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com. 

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