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Anchorage School District Superintendent Comeau presents reduced 2012-13 budget to school board


Reductions and eliminations proposed in effort to close $19 million gap

Superintendent Carol Comeau presented the district's 2012-13 preliminary $569.1 million General Fund budget today to the Anchorage School Board. As proposed, the budget reflects a $1.6 million increase over the previous year. The budget includes many position and program eliminations, and class size increases in order to balance next year's expenditures with estimated revenues.

"These are extremely difficult cuts to make," said Superintendent Comeau. "If we had the funds, I think we would have made very few cuts to these programs that are helping our students, particularly our struggling students. But we have to make tough choices in order to produce a balanced budget."

The following program and staff changes are among the recommendations outlined in Superintendent Comeau's preliminary budget.

Program eliminations include:

 Summer school - elementary, middle and high school

 High school graduation coaches

 Middle school career guides

 Middle school in-school suspension teachers

 Student support program supervisors

 Romig master plan facilitator

Programs reductions include:

 Elementary counselors

 Elementary librarians and assistants

 Special Education/Related Services

 English Language Learner services

 Gifted Education services

 Curriculum & Instructional Support

 Maintenance positions and project funds

 Warehouse positions

 Custodial positions

The administration is recommending a class size increase for students in grades 3-12. The move will save an estimated $4.6 million.

 Grade 3 - 0.5 increase

 Grades 4-8 - 1.0 increase

 Grades 9-12 - 1.5 increase

"Class-size increases are the last thing we look at when trying to balance the budget," said Comeau. "We know this is a very important issue for our teachers, principals, students and the community."

The budget includes a net reduction of approximately 87 full-time equivalent positions.

Last year, the district received $7.6 million in one-time grant funds through the federal education Jobs Bill that was designed to keep school staff positions. That funding has since expired. Additionally, the district is projecting to receive $1.8 million less in state funding next year due to lower enrollment. The change in current enrollment is projected at 130 students, a decrease of one-third of one percent.

Other significant budget adjustments include:

 One-time cut to bandwidth costs

 One-time cut to computer equipment refresh

 One-time cut to utility costs based on savings realized and projected, with some credit to energy efficient practices

The proposed budget does not include any sports, activity or parking fee increases.

"Sports and activities sometimes are the only connection kids have to school. We know children who participate in school activities are more invested and do better in school, so we are proposing no changes to student fees or co-curricular activities this year," said Comeau.

Superintendent Comeau's proposal includes budget increases for negotiated contracts, Response to Instruction, the Equipment Replacement Fund and additional services, such as charges from the municipality for School Resource Officers. Two positions are slated to be added to the 2012-13 school year, those include an ACE program special services teacher and a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) coordinator.

A comprehensive list of all reductions is detailed in ASD memo #180, available online at www.asdk12.org/depts/budget.

"Over the years, we have added more programs to try to address individual learning needs," said Comeau. "Many of these programs have proven effective but we're in a place now where we have to make hard calls based on available funding. I don't like this budget but I think it's as responsible as we can make it."

Effective with this budget, the district will change its policy regarding state retirement system liability funds and no longer include that pass-through money as a budgeted item. The move puts the district in-line with municipal reporting procedures and better reflects the true day-to-day operating costs of the district. Comeau said the district remains grateful to the governor and state legislators for their commitment to fund the retirement system liability.

No service level changes are recommended for the district's Food Service and Debt Service funds. The Grants Fund was reduced due to the expiration of the federal education Jobs Bill and may face further changes once the federal budget is finalized. Those three funds - along with the General Fund - represent the district's overall budget which totals $726.8 million, a decrease of $6.2 million over last year.

The board will hold work sessions from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. today and Tuesday in the Education Center boardroom to review the overall 2012-13 budget as well as that of each department. Any changes made by the board will come at the first reading of the budget on Feb. 1. The second and final reading of the budget is scheduled for Feb. 9. Both budget readings begin at 5 p.m.

Public input is welcome throughout the budget process by testifying at an upcoming board meeting or emailing school_board@asdk12.org.

Additionally, Superintendent Comeau issued the following statement regarding the current level of state education funding.

"These cuts are necessitated by the lack of revenue increases at the state level and only a slight increase at the local level.

"In his State of the State address last week, Governor Sean Parnell was clear in his opposition to increases to the ongoing education funding formula. He also made it clear that one-time funding increases are his preference. Unfortunately, this approach has caused all school districts in the state to have to budget on flat funding for the past few years. This always means reductions to current programs and staff due to inflation and other ongoing increases.

"The three years of forward-funding increases to the Base Student Allocation and intensive needs students that resulted from the Joint Education Funding Task Force, co-chaired by Rep. Mike Hawker and Sen. Bert Stedman, were a much more appropriate method of funding K-12 education. Annual one-time increases are not a suitable way to sustain continued improvement and retain our outstanding and effective workforce.

"Districts, including Anchorage, are hoping that our legislators and the governor will realize that the current cycle of anticipated budget cuts in January-February lead to disruptions and demoralization every year when we should be focusing on increasing student achievement and developing programs that are sustainable."

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