ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — Facing significant spending cuts in Gov. Dunleavy's proposed budget — including slashing hundreds of millions of dollars for K-12 education in the upcoming budget year — the Anchorage School District is considering making dramatic reductions.
Salaries and benefits make up 87.5 percent of the district's budget. The rest is tied up in buildings, supplies and equipment, and insurance, among other items.
That basically means teachers and staff would have to be cut.
ASD says that under the governor's proposed budget, out of its current 1,837 teachers, 518 in instruction — 28 percent — would be cut.
On top of that, special education would lose 269, support services 100, school administration and support 85, district administration 47, and operations and maintenance would be cut by 106.
It's a total of 1,125 people.
"We're looking at a system that isn't going to get the outcomes that our community desires for kids. And we're asked to continue to keep those same outcomes. We want better outcomes, but with less resources," Dr. Deena Bishop, the superintendent of the Anchorage School District said. "When you take those away I just want to ask 'And then what? And then what? What do we expect to happen?' And my experience, 29 years in schools, it's not going to do well for the children."
For K-12 education in Anchorage, the proposed budget is about a 20 percent overall reduction. It's even more complex since state bond debt reimbursement — which covers school construction and repairs — would be eliminated. That's a cost that would be shifted to the city of Anchorage and its taxpayers at a price tag of $41.1 million according to ASD.
Bishop says class sizes would increase by 10 students. For high school, some classes would be more than 40 students. Increased class sizes, Bishop says, is also a problem because some classrooms aren't big enough to fit in more people and more desks.
Great Alaska Schools, which advocates for education, says that's a safety issue.
The group also says the ongoing debates and uncertainty in education funding will create a recruiting problem for ASD.
"I think the fact we're having this conversation, and will continue to late into the year, is really toxic," said Aaron Poe with Great Alaska Schools.
The governor's spokesperson Matt Shuckerow was asked for a comment about the budget. He has not responded as of this publishing.
Earlier in the week, Shuckerow sent a statement about the proposed cuts to education, writing:
"We can simply no longer afford to spend what we don't have," the statement reads in part. "These reforms and changes to state spending will be a shared responsibility, one that will require localities and municipalities to also make difficult decisions."
Meanwhile, a May 14 deadline for tenured teachers and other certificated staff is coming up fast. ASD has until that date to let teachers know if pink slips will need to be mailed out, which means lawmakers in Juneau have to create a budget before that deadline.