Graff talks budget at Chamber lunch

Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - 09:29
  • Anchorage School District Superintendent Ed Graff addressed the district’s budget woes at the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce luncheon meeting on March 16. PHOTO BY AMY ARMSTRONG FOR THE STAR

Anchorage School District Superintendent Ed Graff said the district isn’t anticipating having to issue any pink slips at the end of this school year based on the district’s budget woes because the 49 teaching positions currently on the chopping block can be absorbed through attrition and retirements.

That is the good news of the school district’s told attendees the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce luncheon meeting on March 16.

“Historically speaking, the district would have anywhere from 200 to 250 teaching positions each year that would retire or resign,” Graff said. “So, there probably is enough attrition for us not to enact a ‘pink slip’. But we are still early on in the process,” he said in regards to assigning staff for the coming school year. “Once it gets down to the details, if there is a specific job title we are eliminating, people with that title may be reassigned.”

As of Thursday, March 17, the district had 34 certificated job openings listed on its career website. Of those positions, eight were for either principals or assistant principals or principal coaches, four elementary teachers, one English language learner instructor, four music teachers, two nurses, one school psychologist, eight special education teachers, three world language instructors, two world language immersion teachers and one physical education teacher – the only vacancy specifically listed for the Chugiak-Eagle River area to be filled by one teacher at three schools: Chugiak, Eagle River and Fire Lake elementary schools.

According to Graff, the previously-forecasted, one-student-per-classroom increase remains the expectation for the 2016-17 school year.

It’s a move Graff said he doesn’t like while pointing out that in closing the $11 million budget gap anticipated for the next school year, Graff said district number crunchers made a 22.29 percent decrease in administration versus only a .35 percent – one third of a percent point – reduction in direct classroom instruction.

“Our focus is to try to minimize the impacts to education in the classroom and focus on other options to reduce the overall budget,” Graff said. “We are doing our best to make sure we don’t have any further cuts that will impact our students.”

Of course, a major wild card still looms in terms of what decisions are made in Juneau. The state Legislature has yet to give its 2016 session stamp of approval to per student funding levels approved last year just as oil prices began to plummet. That funding level includes a $50 boost per student the district used in its calculation for the coming school year budget.

“We are awaiting the outcome of the state budget,” Graff said.

In the meantime, the conversation does continue regarding what to cut next should state funding drop further.

When asked what impact budget woes could have the district’s various student sports program, Graff – himself a former high school athlete – said he hopes the financial discussion doesn’t have to go there.

The district spends approximately $5 million per year on its various sports program, Graff said.

“If you are asking me personally,” Graff said, “I have some strong opinions about the programs we offer. I guess I am biased in some degree, but I go back to my own school experience and sports are what kept me focused in school.”

Graff said the same is true for many student athletes today as well as students participating in other extra-curricular activities.

“Some people view those as extras, but I view them as part of the community,” he said. “Our goal in public education is to help develop well-rounded citizens and sports and other extra-curricular activities provide opportunities for our students to experience things such as working as a team and solving problems.”

Graff said he is aware that many Lower 48 schools now have sports programs sponsored by the local community versus the school.

He’s not sold on doing that on a large scale in the ASD.

“It requires a lot more community involvement,” he said.

Learn more about the ASD budget online at www.asdk12.org/budget.

Writer’s note: Oil prices are headed up: On Thursday, March 17, price per barrel was higher than $40 – a big jump since its bottom on Feb. 11at $26.21. Not that I am advocating our state economy remain dependent on this one income source, but perhaps that increase will continue.

Connect with Amy Armstrong via email at [email protected] or online at www.facebook.com/pages/Armstrong-Communications-Words-by-Amy-Marie.

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