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September 24, 2021

Anchorage School Board Wrap-up. Gains made.

~Linda Kellen Biegel testifies at the School Board meeting

Thanks to all who showed up last night at the special meeting of the Anchorage School Board. The room was packed, and the public testimony was moving, and heartfelt, and practical. We put our money where our priorities are, and nobody wants to live in a city where the next generation is not a priority. 

It was amazing to hear employees of the Anchorage School District talk about the job descriptions of positions that were on the chopping block, speaking up for people who have dedicated their lives to making a difference for children in our communities. I was in awe.

“The work is not going to go away,” said a secretery from Bartlett High. “So I am left to ask who is going to do it. I ask that you please reconsider what you are aking from the clerical staff. You are not only impacting the staff you are cutting. We need the office employees to be able to let the educators do their jobs.”

Tricia Anderson, the Family Resource Coordinator at Mountain View spoke passionately about her work, and the real difference it makes in a community where classrooms are filled with cultural diversity, multiple languages, and parents who want to help but don’t quite know how. “I make myself available for parents, to listen, and to give them resources they need. The center is a safe place for parents to come and connect with their child’s learning environment. I encourage parent involvement, coordinate volunteers for the PTA and board members. I teach new parents how to serve on boards. I offer parenting classes, and there will have been 13 of them by the end of the year.”

Linda Kellen Biegel spoke with conviction about the new proposed fees and the ethical issues that she detailed in her excellent blog post from yesterday. Her testimony definitely captured the attention of the Board, who asked for a copy and let her go past the three minutes she was allotted, so that she could finish her remarks.

Olympian Kikkan Randall was even on hand to testify. 

At the end of the night, it was proven again that community involvement, public testimony, and your written feedback can make a real and tangible difference in your community. When people speak up, change happens every time. Last night, your suggestions and feedback and passionate care for kids got several critical programs and personnel reinstated in the budget.

School Board member Jeff Friedman sent out a letter last night, which I will share:

I don’t usually do this, but please indulge me while I tell a story.

I brought my car to the shop last week because something is wrong with it. 10 years ago I could fill the tank for $12. I got 21miles to the gallon, and it ran great. Today, it is still getting 21 miles to the gallon even though it now costs $40 to fill the tank. I’m paying more, but still getting the same performance that I got 10 years ago.

The repair person told me there was nothing wrong with my car. He said it was actually performing better than most cars its age. It was just getting older and the price of gas has gone up. I told him to stop making excuses and to come up with a solution.

The same scenario is played out almost every week with the ASD budget. People complain that they are paying more without getting better results. And when I tell them why that is, they tell me to stop making excuses. I’m not making excuses; I’m acknowledging reality.

Actually, the public is getting better results because school districts across the state are doing more and producing more. Here in Anchorage, we have dramatically improved both the graduation rate and the drop out rate. Students are learning more at every grade level than they were expected to learn ten years ago, and certainly more than when I was in school. (Venn diagrams and graphs in 1st grade!!) But costs have gone up. School Boards are not authorized to repeal the law of supply and demand, nor can we control the medical and educational needs of the students who come to us. We are tasked with ensuring that every student is proficient and graduates on time, even those who arrive without speaking English or who come from homes with inadequate food supplies. I’m not making excuses; I’m acknowledging reality.

Which brings us to the subject of tonight’s school board meeting. Tonight the board passed a balanced budget on second reading.

ASD Memorandum # 219 – FY 2011-2012 Proposed Financial Plan (Second Reading)

We made several changes from the original proposal based on the testimony we have received live and in writing.

1. We restored summer school at all three levels. Not to the level we would prefer, but at least a somewhat more robust program than was originally thought. There will be an elementary summer school, and there will be an opportunity for high school students to take optional course work with on line courses. Middle school will also have a larger program, though still less than it has been in the past.

2. We put back library assistants in elementary, middle, and high schools. I wish we could have a library assistant at every elementary school, but having a few part time positions is better than none, and it remains important to have these positions in middle school and high school.

3. We put back the high school secretaries. These people do a huge amount of work to ensure that schools run smoothly so principals and teachers can focus on their jobs.

4. We put back the graduation coaches in high school. Another position that reaches the students most likely to fall between the cracks.

5. We put in funding for Sonic Boom

6. And we restored funding for Battle of the Books.

We paid for all of this by spending an additional $2.2 million from the fund balance, for a total of $5.2 million. We need a fund balance for cash flow purposes, and to cover any unexpected shortfalls in federal funding or to help in an emergency (such as when Russian Jack burned). But a majority of the board felt we could spend this money and still have a reasonable reserve. We also increased the average class size in grades 4 – 12 by 0.5 students. This is equal to 20 full time teachers. It wasn’t an easy decision, but in the end four board members (including myself) voted for it.

The budget is based on certain assumptions. The Municipal Assembly told us how much local revenue we will get. State law tells us how much we can expect from state funding. We can also make reasonable assumptions regarding the amount we receive from the federal government for our general fund. The memo can be accessed at the link above, and you can read all the details.

The next stop for this budget is the Municipal Assembly. They will review it and set a total dollar amount for the upper limit of spending. They could increase or decrease the total amount, but will probably keep things right where they are.

We will also be talking to legislators. If state funding goes down, we will make additional cuts. If state funding goes up – which really is a possibility – we would make adjustments in May, restoring some cuts or adding other important spending.

As always, if you have a view as to what either the Assembly or the Legislature should do, write to your representatives. If you have a view as to what the school board should do, you can write to us.

Jeff Friedman, Anchorage School Board

Comments

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Comments
20 Responses to “Anchorage School Board Wrap-up. Gains made.”
  1. CanadianGuy25 says:

    The concern I would see is that over the long-term, this isn’t sustainable. at best the cuts may have been pushed back 1-2 years, giving that they took 2.2 million from the rainy day fund. The same issues will arise in the near future.

    Either the City oo the State is going to have to increase funding, or this is a stop-gap measure.

    • Agreed, and I believe the ball is in our court to: 1) Confront the Mayor on his slimy attempts to balance his own budget (i.e. get re-elected) on the backs of our kids and 2) Let the Legislature know that a billion or so surplus should be enough to kick our kids more money in Alaska.

      Another concern about the State money–Sean Parnell is getting advice (and he’s listening) to hold back that money unless the District “gives more control back to the parents.” That is “code” for allowing more Christian training in the public schools. They will try to couch it as many things, but that’s what the target is while they have a friendly “true believer” in the Governor’s Mansion.

  2. AK Raven says:

    I don’t know what gains were made here. Can we see a break down of the number of employees at ASD? 1. How many there were 10 years ago. 2. How many there are today. 3. What departments have added employees. 4. How many students 10 years ago and today.

    We should be firing the employees who have the least impact on students- and there are plenty of them. There are technology experts who hang out at the schools waiting for teachers to ask questions. There are reading specialists who hang out at schools taking teachers from their rooms to go over numbers. Young teachers are leaving the classrooms to work in “admin” all the time. We should not be increasing class size or cutting sports or summer school. Teachers don’t need to learn about computer programs that they never use. There are many ways to make kids successful. Teachers don’t want to be taken from their rooms or use their precious prep time to go over numbers. If individual teacher’s kids are failing those are the ones who should be targeted with individual assistance and guidance- not just sending them to more training. This district has its head up its a@@.

  3. biglake says:

    The heart of a democracy at work – citizen involvement. Jeff’s letter helps explain some of the reality the school board faces. What a lot of responsibility our schools face. And it’s not just learning to capitalize proper names….oh wait! that’s me.

    I also liked his blog response regarding the founding fathers’ opinions about the constitution’s original intent. It’s good to be reminded that our country’s guiding framework is the result of compromise of some very different opinions.

  4. GOSHRX says:

    I found it real interesting that the fella who proposed adding all of this stuff back at the first reading last week was Don “father of tax cap” Smith, the guy who ran on a platform of making massive cuts to supposed bloated administration. Guess he finally learned that the facts gathered after a year on the board had to be dealt wtih. Now maybe he can convince the other vocal members of the “cut everything” crowd (Griffin, Boyle), though I doubt it. Bummed that class sizes were increased–nothing good ever comes of that, especially if you’re the teacher who ends up with the extra kid in your class.

  5. Krubozumo Nyankoye says:

    Education is a vital issue. It is pleasing to see that at least in Alaska there seems to be some focus on the part of the community to address the realities. I thought Mr. Friedman’s metaphor was revealing. I think it was also appropriate for him to avoid exploring the causes behind increasing costs because although his position may be political in the sense that he was elected, his purpose, his job, is to find ways to provide the best education for all his constituents. Both those who elected him and those he did not.

    And ironically, this points up a contradiction in education. If anything, our education system seems to fall short in teaching how our government is actually structured and conducted.

    It is well that there are citizens such at Linda and AKM who take these matters seriously and make a contribution. It is also well that they and others can discriminate between what we might wish was so, and what is so.

    I’ll throw this out just to fan the flames so to speak. Many here may not be aware of the profound influence the state of Texas has on the content of text books. But they do. They are the second most populace state now I think after California but there is a key difference between the two. The state of California approves a wide spectrum of text books from many sources and does not mandate which should be used. Texas on the other hand is more restrictive and the purchase of text books is much more centralized such that whatever “standards” Texas adopts have an inordinate effect upon the content of ALL the text books publishers fashion for the whole nation. What is worrying of course is those “standards”.

    This is a rather brief and provacative statement that I am making only to raise awareness of the other kinds of challenges public education is faced with.

    • Jeff Friedman says:

      Good points! Our classes on government are far too superficial. Some high school classes get into the more important details, but across the country, far to me do not. It is hard to argue — as some Supreme Court Justices do — that we should follow the original intent of the founders in interpreting the constitution once you learn that Adams and Jefferson couldn’t agree on what the original intent was. If they didn’t agree, how can 9 justices figure it out?

      And Texas has far to much control over the text book industry. I doubt Texas would ever approve a history book that mentioned it fought a war with Mexico to keep slavery. This will only change as we move to e-readers and other non-print sources so that the “text” can have many variations.

    • Sarafina says:

      To follow up…we had a member of the texas board of education, Pat Hardy, come speak at our church a couple of weeks ago. She’s a Republican, but supposed to be less bat-shit crazy than most Rs. She spoke a lot about the arcane and complicated school funding done in Texas (no state tax).

      Science and math are the next subjects to be looked at curriculum-wise, and Ms. Hardy is very pleased the plan in Texas for sex ed is to convince 6th-graders, quote, “If you have sex you’ll die,” from STDs. Ms. Hardy wishes this was taught to 5th-graders. Evolution will also be taught, but I’m not positive it will taught as scientifically accurate or just as one of those theories.

      She also downplayed Texas’ appallingly high dropout rate. I’m further convinced I need to get out of here.

    • Krubozumo Nyankoye says:

      Well, at least I lured a couple of lurkers out of the woodwork. Thank you Jeff and Sarafina for
      your replies.

      Is this the beginning of a conversation? I am willing.

  6. Laurie says:

    When the people stand up together for what they care about they cannot be ignored.

  7. Sarafina says:

    So far, this is impressive. When will someone call meetings to get rid of Sullivan?

    • jimzmum says:

      Getting rid of one awful mayor does nothing for the next awful mayor down the road. The question is, when will the state of Alaska turn the measure over to the districts? I would imagine far down the road, because of the diversity of district make-up. What can be done to stop eejut elected officials from trying to bankrupt schools? Oversight at the state level might work.

      AKM, what sort of possibilities have been discussed in the past about situations such as Anchorage is facing? By that I mean a bad mayor trying to take needed funding away from the schools to fund his/her party planning projects?

  8. leenie17 says:

    “nobody wants to live in a city where the next generation is not a priority”

    ’nuff said.

    Congratulations and thanks to all those who took the time to be there and support the students and staff. I may live on the other side of the country, but good schools anywhere have an impact everywhere.

  9. Writing from Alaska says:

    🙂

  10. jimzmum says:

    Good! Thank you.

  11. John says:

    “When people speak up, change happens every time.”

  12. Fawnskin Mudpuppy says:

    Good work there.

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