Budget Shortfall Leaves ASD Facing Tough Decisions

Facing more cuts than an 80s “slasher” movie, the Anchorage School District has many tough decisions to fill the $23 million budget shortfall.

 The budget cuts are in response to the lack of funding from the Alaska State legislature, which has flat funded the district for the past three years. Unless the district receives a large increase in funding this legislative session, those cuts will result in a reduction of over 200 positions, many of which will be classroom teachers.

 “The loss of teachers will have the biggest impact on the district, resulting in class sizes growing on average by five students,” said Cheryl Guyett, the principal at Dimond High.

The district considered adding a seventh period to the high school curriculum, but that has been postponed for additional consideration.

 “The Anchorage School District is going to be facing some tough times ahead. I am glad that I am graduating this year because the quality of education is going to go down from here on out,” said Olivia Pepe-Phelps, a senior at Dimond High.

 Although most people are aware of the looming cuts, many do not know the specifics of where and what positions will be cut.

 KTUU provided an excellent breakdown of the cuts that helps put the districts dire situation into perspective:

 The proposed cuts amount to a reduction of 6.1 percent of the classroom teachers in Anchorage. 38 of these classroom teachers will be from various elementary schools, 35 from middle schools and 33 from high schools.

 The Junior ROTC programs would receive around $140,000 in cuts and there would be a 10 percent increase in the activities fee to help ease the costs of sports.

 Not only will there be a reduction in the amount of teachers in the district, the budget cuts also involve schedule modifications.

 For middle schools, these schedule modifications will result in teachers having one of their two planning periods cut, which could negatively impact the quality of lessons that teachers can create.

In high school, a seventh period was considered to fill the gap of fewer teachers. This would have resulted in shorter class times and a heavier workload for already busy teachers.

With such wide-ranging cuts, many are wondering what negative effects will the cuts have on the quality of education and can money help solve the problem?

 Joe Johnson a senior at Dimond High School, is concerned that students next year will experience rushed classes, in which the teachers will not be able to adequately give in depth explanations of the material being learned.

 “If you pile more work on already strained teachers, shorten classes and try to cram an extra period in the day, you are going to see a direct negative effect on the quality of education that the teachers will be able to offer,” Johnson said

 Guyett said that the district has experienced increases in operating costs over the years. Cost drivers include: group medical coverage, the Affordable Care Act, new state technology requirements for online testing and teacher evaluations, liability and self-insurance and natural gas prices.

ASD employees and members of the public have demanded immediate increases in funding at various school board and legislative hearings.

 Governor Sean Parnell has responded with a recommendation to increase the base student allocation (BSA) by $200 over a three-year period. Many believe that is not enough and estimate, in order to keep up with inflation, that the BSA should be increased by around $400.

 When asked if money could solve the problem, Amy Cordell a freshman at Dimond, said, “I think additional funding would help ease the burden on teachers, but there are bigger cultural changes that money can’t solve. Such as kids becoming increasingly addicted to technology and a movement away from self educating interests such as reading.”

 President Barack Obama himself said in 2010, “Money alone can’t solve this country’s education problems.”

 With the Anchorage School District facing a tumultuous road ahead, Legislatures will have to be more creative than simply throwing more money at the problem.

 “More money is only the temporary fix,” Guyett said

 Time is ticking for the Legislature to create meaningful changes. Their decisions today will impact the students of tomorrow.