Parents and teachers had a chance to ask often-angry questions about the staggering $9.5 million deficit facing the Juneau School District during a public meeting Thursday night. Some of the leaders' answers, such as closing schools this fall to cut costs, may not have made the questioner feel good.
However, as the question of “who is responsible'' has gained attention, some officials have begun making comments pointing to Kaci Olin, the district's former director of administrative services, who resigned on December 1st.
At the time, the district was projecting a deficit of up to $7 million, but a subsequent review weeks later by newly hired financial experts revealed a series of so-called significant accounting mistakes in forecasting both revenue and revenue. Larger differences were found due to errors. Expenses. The audit, submitted shortly before Mr. Olin's resignation, also identified a number of serious deficiencies in practices over the past two fiscal years.
“To be frank, we were shockingly underinformed about our budget projections for both revenue and spending last year,” said Juneau School Board President Dee Dee Sorensen. Said at Thursday's meeting at: Yadaa.at Kalé Auditorium.
Will Muldoon, the board's finance committee chair, “had to really struggle to get the numbers” to sort them out, she said.
“Most of the remaining board members relied on the expertise of our financial personnel, which put us at a significant disadvantage,” Sorensen said. “So why are we here? That's one of the big reasons we're here.”
But that's not the only reason, she added.
“Another reason we are here is that it has been very difficult for the board to accept that our district is shrinking in Juneau,” Sorensen said. “So we weren't as careful as we should have been in predicting the number of students we would expect. But that's not the biggest part of our problem. The biggest part of our problem Part of it was poor bookkeeping.”
Attempts by the Empire to contact Orlin were unsuccessful. Officially, school board members and district Superintendent Frank Hauser have not commented on the reasons for Olin's departure or her role in the financial crisis, citing confidentiality rules regarding staff.
But the implicit comments have become increasingly concrete since the full amount of the district's budget deficit was presented to leaders two weeks ago.
In response to a question from the audience, Executive Vice President Emile McKee emphasized the word “good” a bit, saying that in the future, “we need a good CFO to prevent something like this from happening.” I think we need to find out.” “Last year we actually wanted to hire a deputy. I really wish we had done that because if we had, we probably wouldn't be sitting here with this debt. ”
The district is expected to have operating costs of about $76.85 million for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, plus a deficit of about $1.90 remaining from last year, for a total of $78.75 million. Revenue is only about $69.25 million. Mathematically speaking, we would need to immediately cut spending by more than 25% between now and the end of the fiscal year to ensure a legally mandated balanced budget.
In addition to seeking clarification about the situation and its future impact on schools, the audience at Thursday's meeting spoke about how an escalating series of mistakes and debts has led to school board members, auditors, current and past high school He also questioned whether he was able to evade the administrator's notice. .
“What I'm hearing is that one person's incompetence can cause such a deviation from the budget,” said the former school board candidate and frequent critic of the district's policies. Aaron Spratt said. “I think many of us would like to know what Mr. Muldoon's finance committee has been up to. Is there an oversight here?”
Cindy Fuller said her children attend public school and are homeschooled, and she recognizes the continuing problem of inefficient public school spending related to performance. Ta.
“If we provide better education, enrollment will increase and budget problems will disappear,” she says. Regarding the current crisis, “Who is to blame for the budget problems?” Are lawsuits being filed? Has someone been fired? That was my money. And that's my children. ”
Kate Hudson, a parent of a JDHS student, said, “I'm a little confused about how we've gone from the past few years of, 'Yeah, it's tough, finances are tough,' to all of a sudden, 'Oh my god.'” Told. We're in this complete hole. ”
“I really don't understand why there hasn't really been any transparency on this,” she said.
In this regard, Hudson said he would like more clarity from district leaders about what will happen next.
“You're being very harsh, but if that's what you need to do, that's fine,” she said. “But let's find out what it is. Let's hear what you have to say: Are schools going to be closed? Are teachers going to be fired too? Teachers being told they need to retire. Is it?”
McKee told Hudson and others in attendance, “Yes, we're going to have to close some schools starting next school year.” He presented his first idea as a concept a year ago.
“The basic concept was: Close one school downtown — maybe Marie Drake — and close one school in the valley — maybe one of several schools. No — (and) bringing sixth graders back to elementary school,” he said. The elementary school will then be divided into facilities for kindergarten through her third grade and her fourth grade through her sixth grade.
“That solves some problems,” McKee said. “First of all, it reduces the duplication of resources between schools. We don't have to have as many administrative staff. Every year there are retirements and transfers of principals, and we can also eliminate some principals. These administrative costs are reduced without any impact on the actual teaching in the classroom.”
High school density also means class sizes are more balanced, rather than some schools with more students and others with fewer students, he said.
In addition to consolidating the elementary schools, all students in grades 10 through 12 would be integrated into Thunder Mountain High School, and ninth graders could be placed in the middle school, he said.
Hauser reiterated a presentation he made to the board on Tuesday, saying a series of short-term and long-term actions are being evaluated, and some have already been implemented. At Tuesday's meeting, the board approved a hiring freeze, restrictions on travel and summer programs, and other immediate cuts aimed at saving about $350,000. He said he is seeking $1 million in such cuts by June 30.
In addition to school closures and consolidation, Hauser said another significant long-term cost reduction would be to increase student-teacher ratios by a few more students per class. It is also possible to move to a four-day school week and eliminate non-required courses such as Advanced Placement classes.
In response to questions both at the meeting and over the past two weeks, district officials also said:
• Auditors submitting a review of the district's budget that found deficiencies focused on the previous fiscal year, which ended with a $1.9 million deficit, rather than the current year, which is expected to have a $7.6 million deficit.
• School districts generally cannot accept donations or other monies for instructional purposes. This would violate state and federal laws regarding school districts receiving fair levels of funding. However, some purposes, such as sports trips, are funded, and officials are considering options for whether cities or other entities can cover certain costs other than instruction.
• Reducing district-level administrators rather than teachers to reduce costs is not practical or financially viable because such personnel are relatively scarce in districts where nearly 90 percent of budgets are spent on staffing. It makes no sense. Consolidation will reduce duplicative administrative tasks at these schools.
• School districts must create a balanced budget for the current fiscal year and pass a balanced budget for the next fiscal year. But the state has announced it will allow school districts to pay their current estimated debt for up to five years, and the board on Tuesday recommended Hauser to consider state-approved financing options to resolve the immediate crisis. approved by Mr.
• The district will publish a new budget newsletter that will be updated after each budget meeting, according to an announcement posted on the district's website Friday.
• Contact Mark Sabbatini at firstname.lastname@example.org or (907) 957-2306.