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$8 million removed from school budget

Posted: Thursday, April 06, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Anchorage Assembly has ordered an $8 million cut in the School District's proposed $418.5 million budget in anticipation of voter approval of a statewide property tax cap in November.

The vote Tuesday was a compromise. Assemblywoman Cheryl Clementson had originally proposed cutting $16.5 million from the district's budget to deal with the tax cap.

But after listening to hours of testimony from school supporters Tuesday night and at an earlier meeting, Assembly members instead approved the $8 million reduction on an 8-2 vote. Assembly members Anna Fairclough and Pat Abney voted against it.

Schools superintendent Bob Christal said the cut would still be devastating. ''It will absolutely mean a reduction in jobs and services for kids,'' he said.

The district's proposed budget for next school year is a $20 million increase over the current budget. Christal said the increase is needed, with $12 million set aside for pay increases for district employees. About $10 million of that is for teachers, whose contract talks with the district are expected to resume shortly.

He couldn't say yet how many jobs would be lost if the tax cap goes through, limiting the tax rate at 10 mills. Anchorage's current rate is 18 mills in much of the city.

The district has a legal opinion saying that the tax cap, if passed, would not affect the district's budget until the 2001-02 school year. The city attorney believes it would affect the coming year's school budget, which starts July 1. The tax cap would take effect Jan. 1.

All told, Assembly members considered four proposals to cut the district's budget.

Clementson, who proposed the $16.5 million cut, said she believes voters will approve the tax cap and that the city must be ready. The $16.5 million represents the effect of the cap on the district for half of the next school year.

''We've got to do some kind of planning,'' she said. ''We would be fools to sit here and say we don't think it's going to happen.''

Principals, teachers, parents and students packed the Anchorage Assembly chambers Tuesday night, urging Assembly members not to cut the district's budget.

School supporters said the cuts would devastate Anchorage's schools and send the wrong message to voters that the district can survive further cuts. One by one, school supporters said they fear the cuts could mean losing teachers, canceling buses and book purchases, and scaling back on technology and after-school programs.

Besides being bad for schools and students, some people said, the cuts would be bad for Anchorage's economy. If the quality of the community's schools declines, businesses won't want to locate here, said Michael Tavella, speaking for the Hi-Tech Business Council, a trade organization that is trying to lure high-tech firms to Anchorage.

''We're thinking like old people,'' he said. ''This is not the way to expand the economy. You can't do more with less. You can only do less with less.''



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