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Multimillion-dollar ASD budget shortfall breeds concern

By Charlo Greene 6:59 PM January 20, 2014

Educators brace for reduction of teachers and staff

ANCHORAGE – The Anchorage School District budget will be released Jan. 21, the same day state lawmakers get back to work.

Lawmakers will have to review and approve the budget with a near $50 million shortfall over the course of two years, leading area educators to believe that even the best-case scenario will have negative effects.

“I don’t think tomorrow is going to be a good case scenario for anybody,” said Anchorage Education Association President Andy Holleman. “I think the district is delivering a lot of bad news that they don’t have any control over.”

According to AEA, the current two-year $49 million budget shortfall will likely result in a reduction of teachers and support staff.  Holleman speculated ASD will lose about 150 teachers, which spread across ASD, he said, will mean each school building could lose between one and six educators.

This year, the budget will be $23 million short, according to President of the Anchorage School Board Tam Agosti-Gisler.

“This is a big cut,” Holleman said. “This is not trimming a program or recognizing that we’ve been doing something that’s not really worth the money. This is having to go in and cut things because there is a lack of funds to make it happen.”

Holleman said this isn’t the first time the district has had to deal with similar major funding issues.

For the past four years, according to AEA, the school budget hasn’t seen any increases, forcing officials to find ways to factor in nearly $50 million dollars in inflation costs with each budget.

Over the past year and a half, Holleman said, ASD has cut nearly 200 positions as a result of the shortfall from the most recently passed budget. And more reductions in teaching staff are ahead, he said.

“Unless we can get more funds out of Juneau you’ll see classes be less interesting, you’ll see classes where students don’t get the individual attention of the instructors, and you’ll see a reduced offering in classes,” Holleman said.

He warned that these cuts could impact students from kindergarten all the way up through high school.

Agosti-Gisler said it’s frustrating to have to deal with these cuts every time the budget is submitted, but there is little to nothing the district can actually do about it.

“Now we’re faced at the point where we’ll have to impact the classroom,” Agosti-Gisler said. “Last year the board asked specifically that they try to find cuts from every place but the direct classroom teacher, but we can’t avoid that anymore because our costs increase every year.”

Holleman warned that this recurring budget shortfall trend will continue unless parents and students demand different from lawmakers.

“Best-case scenario is if parents and students recognize that this is really about to change how school fundamentally works for them,” Holleman said. “If parents and students realize it and do the math and really rally, I think what’s coming out of Juneau can really change but it’s not going to happen unless people really make it a priority.”

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