The Sitka School Board met Tuesday (9-20-16) at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School to discuss absenteeism.

Because she’ll have to transfer one classroom teacher to Special Education, superintendent Mary Wegner says the loss of the three positions will result in a 30-percent increase in class sizes at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School. (File photo)

The Sitka School District may be forced to cut three additional teaching positions, if the legislature reduces education funding by five-percent.

This comes on top of the two teachers and four paraprofessionals the district cut during the regular budget process.

The damage could have been worse. At the June meeting of the Sitka School Board (6-20-17), superintendent Mary Wegner said an end-of-year budget revision has given the district a little more breathing room.

Nevertheless, Wegner says that she doesn’t really have any choice but to hold open three jobs: a second-grade teacher, a fifth-grade teacher, and a special ed teacher. The rest is up to the legislature.

“Our budget is built on flat funding from the state. If we do not get flat funding from the state I need to get the money from elsewhere. And the only place that I have to find that money is in new positions that I haven’t yet filled, because I have a commitment to everyone I’ve offered a contract to.”

The state legislature is in its second special session, deadlocked over financial issues like oil tax credits, an income tax, the Permanent Fund, and surprisingly an education cut. The Republican-led state Senate is standing by its plan to reduce per-pupil funding by 5-percent — a move which used to be considered unthinkable. The state House, on the other hand, is controlled by a bi-partisan caucus. House lawmakers want to fund education at the same level as last year.

Wegner says that if the senate succeeds in passing the education cut, it will mean a 30-percent increase in some class sizes in the lower grades.

“If I cannot fill those positions, then every teacher at those grade levels will be impacted. Their student rosters will change. Their expectations for their class will change.”

Although the classroom teaching vacancies are in second- and fifth-grade, Wegner says the district is legally required to fill the special-ed position. That would mean involuntarily transferring a classroom teacher into that job.

If the state senate relaxes its stance on education funding, Wegner says the district’s deadline for hiring new teachers — though not ideal — is the first day of school.

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