In order to tackle a near $10 million budget shortfall, the Juneau School Board unanimously approved a budget plan for the upcoming school year, which includes significant cuts through school closures and staff reductions. The board’s strategy anticipates no increase in state education funding and a decline in student enrollment, leading to the difficult decision to consolidate resources and optimize operations within the district.

This financial strategy was put into motion shortly before the board was informed of Governor Mike Dunleavy’s veto against a bipartisan education bill, a decision that dashed hopes for an additional $5 million in state funding. Despite this setback, Juneau Superintendent Frank Hauser expressed determination to proceed with the current budget plan, emphasizing its foundation on existing base student allocation (BSA) figures without expecting an increase.

The $85 million budget incorporates a plan to reorganize the district’s structure by moving seventh and eighth graders to Thunder Mountain High School and consolidating all high school students at Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé. This restructure involves the closure of three district buildings: the district office, Floyd Dryden Middle School, and the Marie Drake building. These closures are part of a broader effort to eliminate the district’s $9.7 million budget deficit, exacerbated by declining enrollment, the cessation of one-time state funding, and insufficient state funding adjustments for inflation.

Superintendent Hauser pointed out the lack of significant increases in the base student allocation since 2017, highlighting the challenges posed by inflation. The budget also entails a reduction of nearly 50 staff positions in an effort to cut costs further, affecting the district’s pupil-to-teacher ratios and likely leading to larger class sizes. Although the district aims to manage staff reductions through natural turnover, the possibility of layoffs looms, with a deadline for issuing layoff notices by May 15.

The community’s reaction to these measures was voiced by Juneau resident Melissa Cullum, who warned of the long-term negative impacts on both teachers and students due to increased workloads and reduced support. She predicted a significant departure of educators from the district.

This budget leaves little margin for error, notably excluding provisions for savings, a factor that underscores the district’s precarious financial position.

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