Juneau school board approves budget built around uncertain state, city funding

School board member Brian Holst and Superintendent Bridget Weiss at a school board meeting on Tuesday, March 14, 2023. (Katie Anastas/KTOO)

The Juneau School Board adopted a $96 million budget Tuesday night based on an assumed increase in state and city funding.

Board members chose to build the budget around a $430 increase to the base student allocation, the amount of money per student school districts get from the state. A $430 increase would give the district $3.3 million more than it got this year. 

State legislators are considering bills that would raise the BSA by $1,000 or more, but school board members cited Gov. Dunleavy’s past vetoes to education funding when they settled on a more conservative estimate of $430 last month.

“The budget that you approve this evening is based on assumptions,” Superintendent Bridget Weiss told the board at the start of Tuesday’s meeting. “There are estimates built in here, and one of those is the increase to the BSA.”

The base student allocation is only guaranteed to go up by $30 next year. If lawmakers don’t further increase it, the school board and administrators will have to make budget cuts. Weiss said that would likely involve increasing the pupil-to-teacher ratio, essentially increasing class sizes.

“That’s a lever you likely would have to use if that worst case scenario happened,” she told the board.

Stacy Diouf, principal of Sayéik: Gastineau Community School, said she was worried about the board’s assumption that the BSA would increase more than $30.

“I feel like we’re going to have one idea of what next year is going to look like, and then once that [state] budget passes, it could be drastically different,” she told the board. “The optimist in me really hopes that it happens, but the realist in me is very concerned.”

Other school districts in the state, including the Anchorage School District, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District and the Kodiak Island Borough School District have built their budgets around the $30 increase. The Anchorage School District closed its budget gap by shuttering two elementary schools and increasing its pupil-to-teacher ratio. The Sitka School Board is considering cutting 15 teaching positions.

The Juneau School District will use $1.6 million in remaining COVID relief money to pay for some teachers and online classroom materials. That funding allows the district to maintain current pupil-to-teacher ratios for kindergarten through third grade and middle school, and to slightly lower the ratio for fourth and fifth grade. 

The only staff cuts in the budget are to six elementary school library assistant positions.

The Juneau School District is also assuming they’ll get the maximum amount of money the city is allowed to contribute, along with $2.5 million in outside-the-cap funding. That’s $300,000 more than it requested last year. 

Earlier this month, the district asked the city for an additional $2.5 million for this year, in part to resolve a growing transportation funding deficit. Cassee Olin, the district’s administrative services director, said in an interview that administrators are considering reducing school bus routes next year in order to save money. Without cuts to bus service, the district expects to have a $483,000 transportation fund deficit at the end of the next fiscal year.

The school district must submit its budget to the city for final approval by April 5.

A previous version of this story said the board approved funding for a new world language teaching position. The board voted against funding the position.

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