ANCHORAGE -

The Anchorage School District plans to cut 219 staff members – including 159 employees that play a role in the classroom – due to declining enrollment and a projected $23 million budget shortfall.

When ASD released its proposed $566 million budget Tuesday afternoon, Superintendent Ed Graff said this is the worst fiscal situation faced by the district during his 23-year career.

"Certainly it is going to weigh heavily on what we are able to do to support our students," Graff said.

"The district is going to try real hard not to pink slip anybody that they don't need to," said Andy Holleman, president of the Anchorage Education Association.

But there may need to be a lot of cuts:

  • The proposed cuts amount to 6.1 percent of classroom instructors in Anchorage.

  • 38 elementary classroom teachers would be cut, along with five elementary physical education teachers and four elementary music or art teachers.

  • 35 middle school teachers would be cut, and middle school teachers would have fewer planning sections per day.

  • 33 high school teachers would be cut, and students would have more classes per day in order to keep class sizes intact.

  • There would be a 10 percent fee increase for sports that would raise an estimated $100,000 for the district.

  • Another $140,000 would be raised by cuts to the Junior ROTC program, which comes in response to federal cuts to the program due to sequestration.

  • Optional high school swimming classes would be eliminated; this does not affect swimming and diving teams that meet after school.

NO EASY SOLUTIONS

Bridget Galvin is a junior at Stellar Secondary School, and she said the proposed changes will not work.

"A higher percentage of students and a lower percentage of teachers is immediately going to negatively affect the student-teacher relationship," Galvin said. "We have a major issue."

But there are a few problems contributing to the budget situation, according to ASD.

Enrollment declined by 2 percent over the past year and projects to decline even more than that in the upcoming school year. That accounts for 44 of the proposed staff cuts.

More controversially, the Alaska Legislature provided no increase to the public school funding formula over the past few years.

That already took a toll: ASD cut 215 positions in last year’s proposal and 87 full-time equivalent positions the year before that.

Lawmakers kept constant the base student allocation, or BSA, for the past three years. The BSA provides districts a set amount for each student enrolled, with Anchorage receiving $5,680 per student and rural areas receiving more to account for the higher cost-of-living.

TIME FOR A NEW APPROACH?

Members of the House Sustainable Education Task Force are exerting pressure to keep school spending in check, calling the state’s current level of education spending unsustainable.

Some lawmakers argue they have provided funding increases to account for inflation by funding areas of direct need: the cost of pupil transportation, energy costs and school safety.

At a public meeting of the Legislature’s Anchorage Caucus, hundreds of people asked lawmakers to seek an increase to the BSA.

Sen. Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, said his colleagues are unlikely to provide an increase because the state faces a deficit of its own.

“Just coming down to Juneau and saying, ‘Give us more money,’ probably isn't going to be as valuable as if somebody can offer some concrete ideas on how to maximize the limited resources we have,” Meyer said.

But Anchorage School Board President Tam Agosti-Gigler called for people to continue to pressure their representatives in the Legislature so they will give more money.

“We are calling to action all public education supporters to communicate with their legislators about what they value in public education and urge them to increase funding,” Agosti-Gigler said.

The Anchorage School Board will hear Graff’s presentation of the budget at 4 p.m. Thursday. Both the school board and the Anchorage Assembly must approve the budget.

Please watch Channel 2 News and check KTUU.com for updates to this developing story.

Channel 2's Corey Allen-Young and Austin Baird contributed to this story.