This February marked the deadline for the Anchorage School District’s new budget for the fiscal year of 2017-2018. With that budget came many issues regarding teacher and administration positions throughout the district.
“220 reductions to non-tenured certificated staff were required due to the need to plan for a possible 5.7 percent reduction for which the Senate’s budget proposed,” Deena Bishop, ASD’s superintendent, said. “Approximately $11 million in reductions were made from every sector of our industry.”
ASD positions are budget-based. If there’s no money, cuts have to be made.
“If the state lowers their contribution, we are required to lower our contribution locally,” Tam Agosti-Gisler, school board president, said. “Because our budget is what we call ‘flat-funded,’ it means it doesn’t account for inflation. So even if they gave us the exact same money every year, we would continue to make cuts every year to compensate for that inflationary factor.”
For recent education graduates, these budget cuts mean their chance at getting a job fresh out of college in Alaska became slimmer.
“It’s going to be a really competitive job market,” Jonathan Bartels, Assistant Professor of Secondary Education at UAA, said.”There aren’t going to be as many teaching positions, or at least that’s how it seems at this point.”
Since February, 120 positions have been cut.
“Now, that wasn’t only teachers; that was administration in this building, administration in the schools…” Gisler said. “We were very careful in trying to be as prudent as possible so that the client in the end product of this whole budgetary game is not impacted substantially. Yes, there are some impacts. We cannot help that.”
The majority of the budget is based for the staff. The school board understands that making reductions in staffing positions impacts the lives of those who were given RIF (Reduction in Force) notices – otherwise known as pink slips.
“We had to – by statute – give pink slips to teachers, and administration chose to do first-year teachers predominantly, knowing that some of those teachers we’re going to need back! But we don’t know how many until we know our final budget number,” Gisler said. “If we don’t give the RIF notice, and we cut even more and we don’t have the money, we are obligated by law to pay that person one additional year… that would mean we would have to cut someone else.”
“It’s going to be a really tough job market this year,” Bartels said. “Actually for a lot of our graduates, not from this year but from the past two years; a lot of them were given pink slips.”
The board takes great care in making sure to not just cut anybody and everybody.
“We try to be like a surgeon, careful where we were cutting. We didn’t just go in there and slash,” Gisler said.
Unfortunately, aside from teaching positions, there isn’t anywhere else graduates can go within ASD.
“For the most part, within school administration, you have to have teaching experience,” Bartels said. “It’s so you know education. I mean, why would somebody follow somebody who isn’t experienced? That kind of thing.”
Though the budget forces the board and ASD staff to face difficult decisions, Gisler said the cuts aren’t personal.
“The pink slip is in no way a reflection of [teachers’] value and contribution, but it’s still hard on an emotional level,” Gisler said. “[ASD] is a great place to work, and we are so proud of our district to meet all the philosophies of learning.”
“The job opportunity is the biggest concern,” Bartels said. “I have seen and read of [budget cuts] that go down like this, but hopefully it’s something that doesn’t become normal.”
Both Gisler and Bartels implore educators-to-be not to give up hope despite the difficult times.
“There’s been a lot of instability around education recently, and the way they treat it in the state. So we’re worried it may be turning some people off. Like any field, there’s always that kind of ebb and flow of financial resources. Right now, unfortunately, we’re in some tight times.” Bartels said.
“The ASD is a great place to work, and I still encourage young people who are interested in a career as an educator to still keep the faith and pursue the profession,” Gisler said.
The cuts on ASD staff make it difficult to find employment, but the reward of teaching and working to create passionate, educated students is worth the risk for many. New and seasoned teachers are encouraged by both ASD and UAA to keep looking up, and to never give up on doing what they love.