School district asks community for input amid revenue shortfall

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Anchorage community members are being asked to weigh in on which values are most important to them when it comes to education in the Anchorage School District.

The survey for 2018-2019 asks participants to rank values including: clean and safe schools, co-curricular activities and sport, class sizes, effective and rigorous course offerings and options in schools and programs.

Dr. Deena Bishop, ASD Superintendent, says the district is facing a $9 million revenue shortfall.

"About half of that is from our federal government and about half from our state due to decreased enrollment, so with a decrease in revenue of course our services are gonna decrease as well. But in the mean time we have about a $4 million increase in costs so we're trying to balance those numbers and come up with a good budget that our board can support as well as the greater community," Bishop said.

The district had a decrease of 700 students this year, and the prior year lost 250.

"Seven hundred in a year is a significant amount and it does match similar to what the economy is looking like, loss of jobs in Anchorage area," Bishop said.

The survey asks respondents, "To what extent do you agree with the following statement: 'The district should increase student fees for activities and supplies in order to preserve teaching positions and keep class sizes lower.' "

Another question asks participants whether they agree or disagree with the district charging to ride the school bus to preserve teaching positions and keep class sizes lower.

Deena Mitchell, a parent and member of Great Alaska Schools, said charging to ride the bus could negatively affect low-income families.

"We have some disadvantaged families out there in terms of resources that they have, so in families where there are people working two or three jobs, they maybe don't even have a car, not providing busing to these kids is going to be really a problem," Mitchell said. "If we do look at that, we have to be very careful to make sure that we provide the means for people who can't afford to pay for the bus to get their kids to school."

Bishop said the district's transportation budget took a hit of $3 million, causing the district to consider its options: use the fund balance, use operational money used for staff, books, curriculum and teachers, or charge a fee for bus service.

"What we've looked at across the country, there are some places that have looked at a fee, if you will, for service a minimal fee perhaps something as $10 a month for a bus ride to school and we're just checking to see if that is something that we should look into," Bishop said. "If it isn't tangible for our community, if it's something that is way out of bounds that we even suggest, we'll stay away from that."

While it varies at different times of the year and by location, generally between 35 and 40 percent of the Anchorage community would qualify for free or reduced lunches, Bishop said.

Bishop says for other programs and courses requiring fees, there are waivers available to families that qualify.

As the district faces difficult choices, Mitchell says it needs to be careful about how it finds efficiencies.

"If efficiencies mean that teachers have even more of a burden to bear than they have already and that impacts how our students are getting the attention and learning and instruction and the coaching and the engagement that they need, that doesn't get us anywhere," Mitchell said.

The survey will be available through December and findings will be presented to the school board at a public meeting.

To view ASD's Budget Input Survey click here
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