The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education will begin discussing staffing formulas for the 2004-05 school year at its meeting tonight in Homer.
The formulas, which will be up for board action at a later date, will determine the number of teachers, administrators and support staff employees hired next year, as well as the potential class sizes at schools throughout the district.
The certified staffing ratio, also known as the pupil-teacher ratio, or PTR, tends to be the formula that garners the most public attention. It will be the primary focus of a work session Monday afternoon prior to the board's general meeting.
Last year, the board voted to increase the PTR in all grades except kindergarten through third, resulting in higher average class sizes for the affected grade levels. As the school year began in August, parents, teachers and students began to notice the effects of the change, with some classes well above the targeted size and others remaining below the average. The change has prompted no shortage of outcry from community members.
This year, district administration is recommending the current PTR remain unchanged, a move board members have expressed as a priority throughout the past several months. That means if the formula is approved in the coming weeks, class sizes won't go back to last year's levels, but they won't increase next year either.
Though administrators and board members have said it is crucial to limit the growth of classes, the decision to maintain the status quo won't come without a price tag.
That's because PTR is as much a budget issue as it is an educational issue.
Last year's PTR increase decreased the district's teaching staff by about 42 full-time positions, saving about $3.3 million.
And with expenses rising and enrollment decreasing, the district once again will be looking for ways to find such savings next year.
In a memo in board members' packets for Monday's meeting, the administration says holding the PTR as it is will require an examination of several other possible changes and cutbacks, including reconfiguration of small schools, programs and elementary specialist formulas. It also may require changes to support staff formulas, which potentially could cut the number of custodians, librarians and secretaries employed at area schools.
Conversations about the support staff formulas likely will be tied to certified staffing formula discussions today as well as at future meetings.
Also on the board's agenda is a look at enrollment projections for the 2004-05 school year. The board already saw a draft of these projections at its last meeting and is scheduled to take action on the projections tonight.
The district is projecting 9,392 students next year, based on a 2 percent reduction across the board with some modifications for specific sites. For example, despite dropping enrollment at most schools, Connections -- the district's home-school program -- is expected to grow next year. The projection for Connections this year was 392 students, but at present, the program has 506 students. The projection for next year is 599 students, and the district may again revise that number if enrollment continues to grow in the coming weeks.
Enrollment projections are a crucial part of the budgeting process because federal, state and borough funding all depend on the number of students educated in the district. This year, enrollment came in above projections, but it still is on a declining trend that is expected to continue for the next several years.
To help deal with these challenges, the board also will vote on its federal and state legislative priorities at tonight's meeting. Among the district's requests for governments are pleas for the Alaska Legislature to increase the state's base student allocation from $4,169 to $4,500, to provide aid to districts struggling with increased employer contribution rates for the Public Employees' Retirement System and Teachers' Retirement System and to appropriately evaluate the cost of doing business on the Kenai Peninsula in relation to other regions in the state.
The board will start meetings today with a work session reviewing a recent custodial study at 2 p.m., followed by a student expulsion hearing at 3 p.m., then the staffing formula discussion at 4 p.m. It also will have a brief work session on the annual agenda guideline, which sets a general calendar for board actions throughout the year, at 5:30 p.m.
The general meeting will begin at 7:30 p.m. Actions will be taken on the following items:
n New teacher assignments for five teachers who joined the staff in August;
n The resignation of Barbara K. Titus, a kindergarten through third-grade teacher at Port Graham School, effective Nov. 24;
n A recommendation to turn Nikiski Elementary School over to the borough after it closes in August, while reserving the right for the district to reoccupy the building at any time in following two years if necessary;
n The enrollment projections for the 2004-05 school year;
n A student expulsion; and
n The federal and state priorities.
The board also will hear a first reading of policy revisions on Board Policy Manual Section 2000 -- Administration -- and Section 9000 -- Bylaws of the Board.
The changes to the administration portion of policy reflect the board's ongoing policy updating process. Changes include a number of "housekeeping" changes, which put responsibilities solely in the hands of the superintendent, rather than the superintendent or a designee. A few parts of the policy are being moved from one section to another unchanged, and the job description of the superintendent is being revised to reflect state statute.
Changes to the board bylaws will reflect the growth of the board from seven to nine members.
Work sessions and general meetings are open to the public, with the exception of the student expulsion hearing at 3 p.m. Work sessions are listen-only, while public testimony is taken during appointed times at the general meeting. Tonight's meeting will be held at Homer High School.
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