Instead of budget cuts, Juneau school district asks ‘What can we add?’

The Juneau School District is facing a sixth year of budget cuts, and it’s handling the budget process a little differently than in recent years.

The Juneau School District held a public forum on the budget Feb. 2 at the Juneau-Douglas High School library. (Photo by Lisa Phu, KTOO - Juneau)
The Juneau School District held a public forum on the budget Feb. 2 at the Juneau-Douglas High School library. (Photo by Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau)

Superintendent Mark Miller laid out the challenge at a public forum on the school budget last week.

“If we rolled our current budget over into next year with nothing different, just rolled this year’s budget into next year and did exactly what we’re doing now, we’d be about $1.2 million short,” Miller said.

In the past, the question was, what should we cut?

“And so we’re trying to do it from another way which is if we start with a basic budget or just if we were to do what we had to, to keep the doors open, then what more could we add to get to our final number?” Miller said.

This basic budget totals just over $60 million. On top of teachers and principals, it include items like utilities, insurance and custodial services. Under this bare bones budget, an average kindergarten, first or second grade classroom would have 25 students. Current class sizes average 22.5. Funding-wise, that’s a difference of about half a million dollars.

The district anticipates being able to spend an additional $4 million.

Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School principal Molly Yerkes said her site council struggled with what to prioritize. Naturally, the group wanted to focus on middle school. Instead, its number one priority is keeping K-2 class sizes small.

“We really find at the middle school level that students who have a solid reading foundation, which they receive at those primary grade levels, it costs so much less to teach students to read at that age than it does in middle school or high school,” Yerkes said.

Juneau-Douglas High School principal Paula Casperson, representing all three Juneau high school principals, painted a bleak picture of what more budget reductions will mean.

“It isn’t a stretch to say that we believe that we could very quickly be at the point where we can only offer classes to students who need them in pursuit of their diploma, that the free and public education that has allowed so many generations of students to access classes above and beyond the 23 credits may not be an option for our schools in the future,” she said.

The high schools are desperate to hold on to any full-time employees, Casperson said, including two high school counselors that aren’t in the bare bones budget.

“While we have long supported programs and add-on supplemental things, such as drug testing for our student athletes or intramural programs for our school days, we don’t feel like we can at this point, because they don’t have the connection into the classrooms,” Casperson said.

The district is offering the public another opportunity to provide input on the budget at 6 p.m. Monday at Thunder Mountain High School. Comments can also be emailed to

The district plans to finalize the budget at the end of March.

Lisa Phu is a reporter at KTOO in Juneau.

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