The Anchorage School Board approved a budget for the district’s next school year Thursday night, including several amendments to a plan unveiled in January which would have cut 219 staff positions.
Thursday’s unanimous 7-0 vote comes almost exactly a month after the Anchorage School District released its $566 million proposed budget, intended to bridge a $23 million projected budget shortfall with deep cuts to classroom instruction amid declining enrollment.
Two amendments also passed by the board restored 19 positions, including 16 full-time teaching positions and three high-school counselor positions at a total cost of $1.9 million. A third amendment postponed implementation of a plan to shift teachers from teaching six periods a day to seven, instructing more students at the cost of less time with individual classes.
ASD Superintendent Ed Graff says the annual battles over the district's budget have taken a toll beyond dollars and positions.
"It's a very difficult process, and just the whole cycle of how we go through this every year -- and uncertainty about what our funding is going to be -- has a real significant impact on morale," Graff said. "It just creates a lot of energy in an area where we don't necessarily feel we should be focusing; we should be focusing on instruction and supporting our students, so it becomes a challenge."
Anchorage Education Association President Andy Holleman says that while the district and board face pressure to approve an initial budget, union officials think its funding totals remain subject to change.
"I think we're all pretty confident that the number's going to be something different and it's going to be higher, so we go through quite a process where they have to approve this and begin acting on it," Holleman said. "We're also pretty sure the actual outcome is going to be different, so we're going to go through a couple months of stress as things begin to follow."
Among more specific changes made by the budget, as originally proposed by ASD, were cuts to junior ROTC instruction at high schools and expansion of the district’s iSchool online instruction program.
Public testimony on the budget has seen numerous comments in favor of protecting teachers, with 106 elementary, middle and high school teachers set to be cut in its original version.
The school board's president, Tam Agosti-Gisler, says the board is procedurally required to act on approving a budget, regardless of people's opinions on its content.
"A lot of the public responses in terms of the overall cuts desire that we not make any cuts at all," Agosti-Gisler said. "Unfortunately, we do not have revenue-producing powers, and therefore we must give a balanced budget to the Assembly by that first Monday in March."
On Thursday, Holleman laid some blame at the feet of the state Legislature, which has seen competing proposals for raising Alaska's base student allocation -- but no move yet that immediately increases the state funds ASD and other districts receive annually for each student's education.
"If the funding number was known earlier in the legislative session, it could all be avoided," Holleman said.
The budget is still subject to approval by the Anchorage Assembly.
Channel 2’s Samantha Angaiak contributed information to this story.
This is a developing story. Please check KTUU.com and the Channel 2 newscasts for updates.