School District Faces Tough Choices
Teacher displacement means uncertainty for certain programs
ANCHORAGE - Tensions are high around the Anchorage School District after schools are being told they will have to make do with less staff because of budget cuts.
Although ASD says staffing allocations or teacher displacement happens every year because of changes for student enrollment, teacher retirement or termination, this year the effect is bigger because of a budget that is about $6 million less than last year's version.
There are fewer dollars which means fewer classes, and that's forcing principals to make tough choices they say could change the way a student learns.
“Right now we've lost art and some of our foreign language,” said Sven Gustafson, the principal at Romig Middle School, who has had a lot of sleepless nights during this time of the school year. “I do with what I can do here with what I have or what I don't have.”
Because of district budget cuts five teacher positions at his school will not be around in the fall.
“For my schedule next year I have five less people to play with to be able to make that work for our kids. I'm constantly looking at what my kids need in this building, what are their basic needs for education.” It’s a balancing act that will mean increasing class sizes, eliminating some electives and getting rid of quality educators.
“Its really hard on our staff when we have to look at people that have been here for a number of years, and say, look, you know, because of the numbers and what our needs are, we have to lower,” said Gustafson.
It’s a reduction that middle and high school principals in town are all being faced with – Superintendent Carol Comeau says in the end it all depends on what happens in Juneau and if state lawmakers increase student base allocation dollars.
“Unless we get any new funding from the legislature and the governor, then this is the number that we are working off of,” said Comeau.
Even if the state money doesn't come through, the district holds back jobs in the budget until school starts and they know how many kids are enrolled.
“The full allocation for all the teaching positions haven't been given out to the schools because we want to wait until we see the whites of the eyes of the student before we allocate those teacher positions,” said Chad Stiteler, who is the Chief Financial Officer for ASD. But it’s no guarantee the laid-off staff will still be around, which leaves Gustafson scrambling to put the puzzle pieces together to make sure some of the good programs stick around, and hopefully some of the good people too.
“I'm constantly looking at what kids want to take and then what kids need to take and its just hard to make it all work,” said Gustafson.
The district says teacher displacement happened last year, this year, and will happen every year going forward, but it all depends on the enrollment of a school and staff available. Comeau says they usually have about 180 to 200 retirements or people resigning each year, so most positions cut from one school could go to another or be spread out. For example at Romig, Gustafson says next year the music teacher will be used there as well as West High School as one full-time position.