Community Protests Loss of School District Teachers
ANCHORAGE - On the Delaney Park Strip, a dedicated group of people took to the streets to fight for teachers. Parents, students and educators devoted 35 hours to get their message across – one hour for each teacher who's been laid off from the Anchorage School District. But school board members say because of financial issues, their hands are tied.
With city property taxes capped to the limit, and no increases in the student base formula from the state, school board members say they have nowhere else to get the money to keep the teachers, which is why the protesters are trying to spread their message.
Standing up and speaking out for education, dedicated parents, students, and a few teachers sacrificed their sleep for 35 hours to make sure their voices were heard.
35 teachers and 20 support staff members were laid off in May, and some schools eliminated their fine arts and world language programs. Students say they lost one of the best, including Steller’s first-year art teacher Lee Weiland, who affects an entire school. "He was originally hired to teach art; he’s since taken on a weight training class, [and] he started an acrobatics club,” said Aryeh Lax, who recently graduated from Steller. "Its really important in schools to have teachers where they fit."
"Without the arts they are just almost like half-people; they would be these intelligent people that we would be graduating that would have no good ideas, no creativity," said Klatt Elementary art teacher Barb Yanoshek.
It was a message the group took to Monday's School Board meeting to try to convince school board members to bring the teachers back. "Short-term we want the reinstatement of all 35 teachers," said parent Andromeda Romano-Lax. "You have told us you were listening and I believe you are in a bind trying to make difficult decisions with inadequate resources."
School Board members say they've got tough decisions to make. "If there is no inflation-proofing put into the foundation formula, these are the things we are going to be faced with each year," said School Board president Jeannie Mackie. "We don't know the exact number that we are dealing with and there is only a certain amount of control that the School Board has over what we are allowed to reinstate."
The push now is to pressure lawmakers. "We need to talk more to the mayor, assembly, the governor," said Romano-Lax. "It’s an election year, so this is a real good time to find out where people stand and to make sure that they prioritize education in a state that has plenty of money to spend on our most important things."
The group says the future of our children hangs in the balance. Most of the money the school board talked about has legal requirements. Around $28 million of it is specifically for grants like computers, playground equipment, and transportation. Board members said Monday they can't change personnel decisions made in March because of union contracts. Also it was stated that because of personal leaves of absence and refusal of job positions, there are now only 20 teachers who were officially laid off, not 35.