Budget talks reign at Anchorage School District meeting

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - A Monday evening ASD School Board meeting included not only testimony from people in the audience, but that from thousands of online submissions as well.

The meeting focused on a big question mark: Primarily, the school budget for the coming year.

"Adjusting only for student enrollment," said ASD Superintendent Deena Bishop," "again, we're about 600 students less, and we would continue to have a $13.1 million gap."

From survey results alone, it's clear that not everyone agrees on how and where money should be saved.

"I understand we're facing a serious budget shortfall, and ASD employees are being asked to do more with less, again," said a teacher attending the meeting.

“Teaching is a poker game that must be played all-in,” said another, who also gave testimony at the meeting.

“I’ve been teaching for 11 years, and this one was by far the lowest year,” said a different teacher. “Due to the eight-period day without piloting or direction... this is a disservice to our students. In education, when a student makes a mistake, we strive to make them recognize and apologize. I recommend the board do the same.”

Flat funding is what the Anchorage School District will likely see, based on the release of Gov. Bill Walker's proposed budget in December. It might sound good, except that costs have gone up significantly.

However, the district is "looking as far away from schools as possible," to make the cuts, Bishop said.

To try and figure out what the community wants to see in terms of the budget cuts and other shuffling, a budget survey was created. More than 3,000 people responded, ranking importance of school district aspects.

For the top five, with the number one spot ranking the most important, co-curricular activities took the fifth spot. The number four position was options and choices in schools. Effective and rigorous class offerings came in third, while cleanliness was second. Topping the list was keeping class sizes to a minimum.

"I know there's no such thing as a free lunch," said Tom Klaaymeyer, Anchorage Education association president. "Everything's a trade off kind of thing, but that means we accept the premise there's no money."

A second ranking in the survey asked for what people felt were the most acceptable cuts in order to preserve teaching positions and keep class sizes small. Those were, from the top-ranked down, co-curricular activities, such as sports; elective course choices, such as additional language offerings; and computers and information technology.

"We can do more with less," said one teacher at the meeting. For example, "we can do more with less students in the classroom. Thirty-plus primary students is more than we need."

As for what's next with the school budget, a briefing will be held on Feb. 5th with a final vote by the school board Feb. 20th, in order to get it to the Anchorage Assembly by March 1st.

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