Home Business & Education A Letter to the Editor from Anchorage School Board President Tam Agosti-Gisler

A Letter to the Editor from Anchorage School Board President Tam Agosti-Gisler

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Photo by Alan Levine, Creative Commons Licensing.

Dear editor,

It’s disheartening to hear comments made in the legislative halls and offices of Juneau which are based on incorrect information and hyperbole. At a time when state legislators are making important decisions which will have far-reaching impacts on our state, it’s critically important they use facts to inform their decisions.

Here’s how the Senate Majority’s 5.7 percent proposed reduction in state education funding would impact the Anchorage School District (ASD). ASD stands to be cut $19,838,000 from the State. Additionally, ASD is one of only five districts in the state which also will be impacted by a state-mandated corresponding local reduction in support. That adds another $4,562,000 for a total of $24.4 million in cuts. This reduction would be on top of the $15 million ASD has already cut from the operating budget in February, preceded by several years of additional cuts!

It’s also disconcerting to hear a statement that ASD could reduce its administration by 4.72 percent. In fact, ASD spends the least on district administration of the “Big 5” school districts (including Mat-Su, Fairbanks, Juneau, and Kenai). The total expenditures on district administration, as well as district administrative support, is nearly $29 million — or 4.79 percent — of total operating budget expenditures. Let me paint a ludicrous picture of the consequence of a cut that large in district administration and support:

Human Resources — no hiring or firing of employees, no contract bargaining or administration, no benefits management, no labor law compliance, no workmen’s compensation, no risk management nor liability claims processing, no health clinic contracting, no coordination of school nurse services

OMB/Finance/Payroll — no payroll for employees, no budgeting, no fiscal management or audits

Information Technology — no use of the Internet or technology for operations or educational purposes, no device maintenance or repair

Communications — no ASD website, no ASD communications with the community via electronic newsletters, news releases, social media, or local news media

ESEA Federal Programs — no compliance with federal laws with resultant suspension of federal funding

Grant Writing — no grant applications with resultant loss of numerous district and school programs

Security/Emergency Preparedness — no coordination of safety and security in the district or with the Municipality

Community Services — no rentals or use of ASD schools for community events, no field trip coordination

Purchasing — no bidding, no district procurement, no interschool mail, no supply delivery

With the remaining 0.07 percent, the Superintendent could have an academic chief and an operating chief to run the instructional (regular and special education and support services) and operational functions (transportation, food services, school maintenance, and construction), but without the above-stated services, I’m confident the board would have a hard time retaining any leader.

I’ve also heard inaccurate statements that many of the district’s administrative services could be handled on site by the school administration. Once again, that shows a gross misunderstanding of the work performed by ASD principals and assistant principals.

The district has already increased the workload of principals in some schools by reducing the number of assistant principals. Yet, their duties continue to include: staffing and teacher evaluation, instructional leadership, course scheduling and teacher assignments; student registration and scheduling; student decorum: referrals, reports, behavior expectations and consequences; attendance monitoring and truancy processing; student assistance: peer helpers, and drug/alcohol intervention; assessment planning and oversight; staff professional development coordination; parent and community relations,; unit budget preparations and oversight; procedures and approvals for requisitions; supervision of student activities; staff and student recognition; school climate; accreditation reporting; building maintenance supervisions; student remediation efforts; graduate support services and graduation planning; student records; department chair supervision; Freshman fair and fall orientation; open house planning; zone exception determinations; student activities; and more!

Here are the facts:

  • Public education is a people intensive industry.
  • 79 percent of ASD’s budget is dedicated to instructional functions.
  • For all school district functions, 90 percent of ASD’s budget is applied towards payroll and benefits.
  • The largest percentage increase in personnel costs for the last 35 years is medical costs; salary costs have remained steady with inflation and are not inflated.

When the cries of “cut the fat in administration” are heard, please know this is a smoke screen. The proposed funding reductions will result in more administrative trimming on top of the 25 percent the Board has already reduced, but the majority will be in teacher reductions because that’s where the vast majority of ASD funds are spent. Those positions most vulnerable are the new hires whom staff has worked so hard to recruit and train.

If the budget is not finalized within a few weeks, the churn will begin as state law mandates districts issue pink slips by May 15, regardless of whether the state budget has been finalized. How many of those treachers are going to stick around Alaska in the hopes they are recalled in August when they have rent or mortgages, groceries, or other bills to pay?

Is this healthy for our students, their families, and our community? Does this community want our public education system dismantled? Give your answer to your legislators.

Tam Agosti-Gisler
Tam Agosti-Gisler serves as the President of the Anchorage School Board.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Having spent hundreds of hours as part of what used to be a very public budget process, I think I can safely say that trying to repudiate the unsupported assertions attacking educational funding with unsupported assertions of the District only feeds the fire. The District budget is not transparent, and many claims made regarding budget expenditures are almost caricatures.

    The problem is that most of the public is ignorant of the District budget, and ASD doesn’t do near enough to redress that issue. One way to combat that ignorance (a process that some found dangerous because it meant that more people actually knew what was happening with the District budget, lol) was the Budget Review Team process, which brought virtually anyone who wanted to be involved up close and personal with the budgetary process. As a result there was a broader and deeper sense of trust in the District (and the identification of “fat”, excess, misspending, etc. was public, and often painful).

    Of course, Tam knows about this process, and the idea of bringing the process back has been floated to her and other Board members repeatedly over the past years, though the process has not been re-adopted. I have to argue there are only two reasons that the process has not been re-instituted: a) there is some cost associated with the process, and/or b) someone doesn’t want anyone digging around in the books. I think the costs, when compared to the costs of the ignorance that otherwise results, is an acceptable charge against the budget, and I would think would at least be something Tam would talk about. But the silence is deafening.

    I have helped cut hundreds of thousands out of the ASD budget, and was upset about most every dime of costs shed, in no small part because that meant that the District’s role in our community was being constricted. I also think that until we get to a student/teacher ration of some 15:1 we are doing more baby-sitting than teaching. This is not a matter of “sides”. It is a typical political problem where we have lots o’ folks pointing fingers at others, an almost total lack of a common frame of reference, and rampant economic fear. The environment is toxic, and flag-waving is not going to solve our problems.

    Yes, we need so much more additional education funding that it is almost humorous that there is even a fight over the pittance at stake. And yes, like all large institutions, ASD is fraught with seeming inanity. This is not an “either, or”, but an “all of the above”. Yes we need a great deal more funding, but that funding is going to become increasingly more difficult to obtain until more of the public has their hands dirty working with the budget in small group settings.

    Tam likes the glossy long terms plans, but I think it’s high time we turn away from the slick photo opps and get to work with real solutions that put more people inside the budget. We can start with the BRT process.

  2. Teaching little kids to remember a username, a password, how to manipulate icons on a screen using a mouse, how to type, just so that state tests can be given, are not relevant skills for little kids. They need to be learning wading, writing and arithmetic, not Windows 10, MacOS or Android.

    But then again, the ONE HUNDRED people working in the district’s I.T. department need to support something. Dozens of those positions originated with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act back in 2009/10. Carol Comeau said they were to be reevaluated when the funding disappeared. Dozens of teachers could be hired with those funds.

    Why does every regular Board meeting start with the statement that you’re “here to listen, not make management decisions”? Why even have a Board with that attitude? Nothing is discussed at those meetings anymore. Everything is done in secret, isn’t it? Like the $20k pay raises for people who accepted the job just weeks earlier at the lower rate?

    Do your job.

What do you think?