Frequently asked questions

The following information addresses questions arising from the development of the 2014-15 financial plan. The superintendent will submit the preliminary balanced budget for the 2014-15 school year to the board in January for review in January and February. The board is slated to approve a balanced budget in February and submit the proposed budget to the Anchorage Assembly in March for its review and approval.

 

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Jump to questions about: General budgetSeven-period secondary schedule

 

General budget questions

What is a budget gap?
Each fall, the district updates its financial forecast to assess the outlook for enrollment, revenues and expenditures based on prior year trends, as well as known and measurable changes to the trend.

 

When the projected costs exceed the revenue forecast, there is a budget gap. The budget gap represents the amount of money that will need to be either removed from expenditures and/or made-up in revenue in order to achieve a balanced budget. The district is required to submit a balanced budget to the Anchorage Assembly.

 

Why is there a budget gap?
The revenue outlook from the State of Alaska is flat. The revenue outlook from the Municipality of Anchorage and other local sources is essentially flat. The revenue outlook from the federal government programs is declining due in part to the implementation of federal sequestration (Budget Control Act of 2010).

 

Despite flat to declining revenue, the district continues to experience significant inflation in the medical care associated with its health benefit plans, energy costs, general liability expenses, along with significant increases in Internet bandwidth. The gap between expenditures and revenues requires the district to increase revenue or reduce and streamline costs, or a combination of the two in order to balance the budget.

 

What is the district going to do about the budget gap?
District leadership will develop a balanced budget based on guidance from the school board which includes:

 

  • revenue assumptions
  • overall staffing levels as well as the balance between teacher and various support function staffing
  • district leadership’s best judgment about the most effective and efficient use of staff and resources to achieve   goals.

 

Prior to the school board providing guidance on how to build the FY2014-15 budget (next school year), the board asked district leadership to meet with community members to discuss what they value in public education, the district&'s financial outlook, and begin to offer comments on how the district should close the budget gap.

 

Following the board's guidance (offered on Nov. 18), district leadership will develop a balanced budget that continues to strive for high-quality public education.

 

Can I see which programs and positions are slated for elimination?
Given the magnitude of the gap over the next two years, everything is on the table for consideration of streamlining and realignment. There have been no decisions regarding program or staff reductions at this time. In November, district leadership begins preparation of the budget for next school year. In January, the administration will present a preliminary balanced budget with proposed changes in local revenues, staffing and expenditures for the board to consider.

 

A few people have expressed concern regarding some information that was presented during the community budget conversations. In a discussion about staffing levels, categories of various job types were presented. All programs and positions that reflect at least a $2 million cost to the district were included in the broader categories to stimulate a robust discussion about what community members felt were priorities and to allow differing points of view to be heard.

 

Why is the district talking about cutting jobs - are there other ways to balance the budget without issuing pink slips?

Education is a people-intensive business. Approximately 85-89 percent of the district's expenses are made up of salaries and benefits. The projected $49 million budget shortfall over the next two years is significant. If this budget shortfall was closed entirely by reducing staff, that would equate to approximately 400 positions. Those reductions would be in addition to the 215 positions eliminated to help address last year's budget deficit and the overall reduction of 500 positions over the past four years.

 

The district is looking into other ways to reduce costs, such as an initiative to transition to LED lights that use less than half of the electricity of current lighting systems.

 

What is the district doing to control salaries and benefit costs?

In the district’s most recent negotiated contract with the Anchorage Education Association, which represents the majority of ASD employees, the district tried to balance the need to attract and retain high quality teachers against the need to control costs and get good value for its investment. The increase in salary and benefits were held to inflation over three years. Holding medical coverage increases to inflation over three years, represents a 66 percent reduction in group medical coverage cost escalation compared to the prior five years.

 

Unfortunately, the modest increases in salary and benefits may not be sufficient to attract and retain quality teachers and specialists in certain high demand fields. The district continues to experience higher than average vacancies in special education, school psychologists, speech pathology, occupational therapy and native language immersion positions.

 

Why is the district putting in turf fields at its high schools when it's facing such a large budget deficit?
For all but one of our comprehensive high schools, the new artificial turf fields are paid through grants provided by the state legislature. At Dimond High School, the turf field was funded through a private donation to the school's alumni association. The capital grant funds cannot be redirected to general operating funds and used to reduce the operating budget gap. The district did not request funding for the turf fields.

 

Can the district turn off more lights to save money?
We have begun an initiative to replace old, less-efficient lighting with new high-efficiency LED lights. The new lighting systems will include controls and occupancy sensors to more efficiently provide the right amount of lighting as needed. This will significantly reduce ongoing electrical costs. We expect the change-over of lighting to save 52-59 percent of kWh and reduce peak demand associated with lighting in buildings where current T-12 lighting is converted to LED lighting. More information on this project can be found here.

 

 

Community budget conversations

At the community budget conversations, why weren't upper management staffing levels addressed?
One of the questions asked of participants was to prioritize various job categories, including Districtwide Support Services, which explicitly included upper management. In 2013-14, this category of positions was reduced approximately 11 percent, more than all other job categories. The collective feedback on the community budget question is available in the community budget conversations report.

 

At the community budget conversations, why weren't participants given options within each question to not reduce the budget at all?
One main purpose of the community conversations was to solicit feedback in response to real challenges the district currently is facing financially. The budget gap is projected at $49 million over the next two years due to continued inflation, flat operating funds from the legislature and declining federal revenue associated with sequestration. For the coming school year, that equates to approximately $23 million in reductions that must be made, or more than 200 positions this year. Over a two-year period, that adds up to approximately 400 position reductions.

 

 

Seven-period secondary schedules

Why are we considering a change to secondary schedules?

As a district, we are committed to our Destination 2020 goals; which include increasing student proficiency and the graduation rate.

 

However, due to projected flat funding, the district expects a budget gap of $49 million over the next two years which means schools will have fewer teachers.

 

With fewer teachers, it will become logistically impossible to continue providing core instruction, meet the need for increased academic support and intervention classes, and still offer quality electives such as advanced placement, world languages, art and music.

 

With the current budget proposal, keeping a six period schedule would result in increased class sizes and the elimination of specific elective classes, programs and options for students.

 

Through budget meetings and public comments, it is clear the community wants the district to maximize opportunities for students.

 

The seven-period schedule utilizes the staff a school has in order to continue offering opportunities for students, including academic support classes and elective offerings.

 

EXAMPLE

 

  • If a school has 100 teachers who teach 5 of 6, there are 500 periods or sections available to students.
  • If those same 100 teachers teach 6 of 7, there are 600 periods available.
  • Now, let's say this school faces staffing reductions and loses five full-time teachers, this is displayed on the bottom row of the chart. By moving to a 6 of 7 schedule, the school will still be able to offer more periods and opportunities to students than it had with the previous 6-period schedule and more staff. (The arrow points from where we're at to where we're going.)

 

Seven period schedule

 

 

Why are we looking at implementing a new secondary schedule next year instead of waiting another year to study and prepare?
With the proposed elimination of the additional middle school planning period and reduction in teacher allocations to each school next year, combined with the increasing need for core academic, support and elective offerings, the cost of waiting a year in terms of programs or courses that would be cut would be very high compared with any advantages to waiting a year.

 

Will all schools have the same seven-period bell schedule?

While there are advantages to having all secondary schools on the same bell schedule, the unique needs, traditions, and programs within each school community need to be taken into account.

 

As has been true in the past, within the limits of the traditional daily starting and ending times, all schools will have the opportunity to develop their own bell schedules. Seven period days, block periods, rotating blocks, daily "skinny" periods, number and length of passing periods, lunchtime configurations, advisory periods, and even professional development time are all possibilities that can be considered when developing daily and weekly bell schedules.

 

Can schools schedule a study skills or academic enrichment class for regular education students?

Secondary Education will work with the curriculum leaders to make sure such a course is available for regular education students.

 

The district currently offers study skills for special education students and tutorial courses for English language learners. However, the need for this kind of class for the broader student population, including those in advanced placement or gifted classes, is something that has been requested for students at all levels.

 

Will teachers need to be highly qualified in the additional course they teach?
Highly qualified requirements will not change from current practice. A teacher needs to be highly qualified in any course he or she is assigned to teach. If the teacher is not highly qualified for an assigned course, the teacher will need to work with the principal to submit a plan for becoming highly qualified.

 

Will teachers have to teach a new prep in addition their other courses?

This will be up to the principal and what he or she schedules for each individual teacher. Principals will need to take into account student, program, and school needs, teacher qualifications and abilities, relative workload in terms of preparation and grading, and scheduling logistics and realities within the master schedule.

 

It's possible that a teacher could be assigned a new prep in their content area, could teach an additional section of a course already scheduled, or be assigned another class that does not require as much preparation or grading time as his or her others.

 

Will teachers still get their instructional planning period?
All teachers will still receive their instructional planning period, as part of the contractually negotiated agreement.

 

 

High schools

Doesn't a seven period schedule result in less time per each class?

The amount of available time for each class will depend on a comparison between a school's current school schedule, number of passing periods and corresponding minutes per class per week with whatever new schedule is developed. Regardless of the schedule developed at each school, the need to make the most of every instructional minute available is paramount.

 

A review of five ASD current school schedules shows that, depending on the schedule, student contact time may increase with a 7-period schedule.

 

 Seven period comparison

 

 

Will student homework loads increase?
Depending upon the class a student opts to take as the seventh selection, the total amount of homework could increase. However, homework load is within a teacher's scope of authority. Teachers have the opportunity and responsibility to ensure that all homework issued is directly related to learning objectives, takes into account student ability and need, and strengthens the classroom-home connection. Principals will work with teachers to ensure homework is not just routine, but meaningful and enriching and provides students with valuable feedback. Depending on the schedule developed, which may include alternating blocks, students also may not have every class every day, allowing some flexibility in homework priority for students.

 

Will graduation requirements increase?

There are no plans to increase ASD graduation requirements beyond the current 22.5 credits.

 

With a six of seven schedule, there is an opportunity to earn 28 credits in four years. The new schedule could be advantageous to providing opportunities for credit recovery, which could increase the graduation rate.

 

Students will have more opportunities for electives, to take courses at KCC, or try their hand in advanced courses or other academic enrichment classes.

 

How would King Career Center fit into a seven period schedule?

This will depend on the schedule adopted, but it is certainly expected that morning and afternoon classes will still be possible with periods 1-3 happening in the morning and periods 5-7 happening in the afternoon. If 4th hour becomes a constant class every day, KCC may consider enrolling students in a 4th hour class at KCC in addition to the CTE course.

 

No matter what schedule is adopted, the district is committed to working with KCC to ensure that students do not lose out on any educational or credit opportunities if they choose to attend KCC.

 

With a seven-period schedule, more students may have the flexibility to take advantage of the opportunities that KCC offers.

 

Will current academic plans and pacing guides still be viable if there is an overall decrease in the instructional time available for each specific class?
The academic plans that have been developed are intended to be living entities that are reviewed annually. The curriculum groups that review them will address any adjustments necessary due to a seven period schedule. Common Core State Standards also narrow and deepen the focus within the content areas.

 

Will school start and ending times remain the same or can the day be extended?
There are no plans to lengthen the school day.

 

 

Middle schools

How will middle schools be affected by the seven-period schedule?
In the proposed budget, the team planning period will be eliminated. That equates to about 35 teachers, which is a savings of about $3.5 million. An additional reduction of nine teachers is the result of annual enrollment adjustments, for a total of 42 fewer teachers at the middle school level.
  • Teachers will retain their daily planning period.
  • Teaming will also continue to the extent possible. Building a schedule is a complex process that principals and their leadership groups are working on. Whether this means two-, three-, or four-person teams, or other configurations, is up to the needs of the school and what works best for them.
  • Though there won’t be a daily planning period for team teachers, principals are trying to find ways to allow team teachers to still have a common instructional planning period. It wouldn't provide for planning as a team daily, and teams may not be able to do all they’ve done in the past, but it would be a common time that could be used to discuss student concerns or to plan instruction.
  • Other creative means of providing time for teachers to meet and plan are being looked at as well.
  • Middle schools will not transition back to the junior high concept where students move independently through six or seven different classes. The middle school approach that focuses on students, and in which students and teachers are organized in teams to support the academic, social-emotional, and developmental needs of every student will continue.

 

Will schools still be able to choose how many lunch periods they schedule?
Some middle schools have as many as three lunches now. Because schools would be continuing with a seven period schedule, they should be able to continue with however many lunches are appropriate.

 

How will the new schedule impact intensives?
Intensives currently depend upon a school's ability to be flexible in their scheduling and use of time. It is anticipated that all schools will still be able to be flexible and allow for intensives if they choose to do so.

 

 


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