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School Board OKs Proposal to Maintain Class Size, Limit Layoffs by Spending Reserve Funds

The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District Board of Education approved a proposal Monday to keep elementary and high school class sizes from getting any bigger next year. The school board’s action also means about 19 teachers won’t be getting pink slips next week after all.

Districtadministrators earlier this year proposed increasing the number of students in classrooms as one of several measures to accommodate reduced state funding. But last week the administration recommended instead that the board should keep next year’s class sizes at the same level as this year’s, and use reserve district funds to pay for enough teachers to hold that student-teacher ratio.

District spokeswoman Sharice Walker says the board’s vote Monday means the district will be sending out fewer pink slips this week than the 26 it had planned.

“So based on that decision,” Walker said, “there are 19 teachers who will not be ‘noticed’ and only seven that will be receiving notices.”

School board President Heidi Haas says some of the seven teachers who’ll be getting pink slips may yet be recalled before classes begin in the fall – but not all, unless the board takes further action, because a few will be laid off in response to a drop in the district’s enrollment of about 60 students. That would bring the projected enrollment down to about 13,650.

“If we have less students than we have this year, then we anticipate having to lay off teachers,” she said.

Haas says the measure approved unanimously by the school board also calls for spending just over $3.6 million of the district’s reserve funds to maintain those class sizes.

“If our revenues do not cover the expenditure of keeping our class-size targets at the same level as our current year,” she said, “we would then use the fund balance to cover the increased adjustment to the budget.”

Haas says the district’s unreserved fund balance totals $12.7 million. In recent weeks, borough officials have criticized district officials’ reluctance to use reserve funds to supplement the schools budget. But both sides have since agreed to resolve the dispute and communicate better. Haas says the Assembly’s vote last week to fully fund the district’s request for just over $50 million next school year also relieved uncertainty over how much local contribution the district would get. She says that’s partly why she voted to spend reserve funds.

“Once we had the indication that we were going to get our asked amount from the borough,” she said, “and an indication that we were going to get flat-funded from the state, that made it easier for me to commit to using reserve funds if we need them – which I believe we will.”

Haas says there are still some unknowns in how much funding the district will get from the state, because the Legislature only last weekend approved the state’s operating budget.

“Although the Legislature adjourned late Saturday night, we haven’t gotten the final numbers from the Department of Education,” she said. “And so it’s hard for us to make any big adjustments without knowing all of our revenues.”

Haas says administrators and school board members will get together next week to hammer out the final details of next year’s district budget. The operating budget is set at about $196.7 million. The total budget, including spending for non-instructional needs such as running school buses and student-nutrition programs, is just over $232 million.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.