Mountain View waits on funding, weighs potential cuts

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Saturday, March 26, 2016 10:06pm
  • News

Editor’s note: This article has been revised to correct an error, and reflect that the pupil-teacher ratio will not be raised in the the school’s four kindergarten classrooms.

While losing half a teaching position may not seem like much, ripple effects in a large elementary school are far felt.

Mountain View Elementary School will be raising the pupil-teacher ratio, or PTR, in all but the four kindergarten classrooms and will cut the equivalent of half a teaching position if the state funds public education as budgeted by Kenai Peninsula Borough School District administrators. One early interventionist position will be reduced either way.

“I think it is smart to be realistic that way,” said Mountain View Principal Karl Kircher.

Nothing is set just yet. There is a chance that Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed $50 increase to the Base Student Allocation, or BSA, in the Foundation Formula, which determines how much each school district receives per enrolled student. For now, administrators are assuming that won’t happen.

All principals have been handed next year’s staffing levels, “currently based on flat funding form the legislature,” and “have been asked to consider what they would do should funding be reduced further,” Kircher said. If the BSA increase doesn’t go through, he will be reconfiguring classrooms and teaching positions, which isn’t easy.

“You can’t just magically put another kid in each classroom — the math doesn’t work that way,” Kircher said.

Mountain View is the largest elementary school in the district, with 448 enrolled students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. There are roughly three teachers assigned to each grade.

If there is no additional funding, Kircher will have to choose between a set of scenarios. Students from two grade levels could be placed in a combined classroom, classes in some grade levels could be larger than others, and then he would have to identify which teachers “are best suited for the necessary configurations.” Or a teacher could work only half a day, but that would still mean switching some things around.

Mountain View is losing an interventionist next year due to open ends left by the Every Student Succeeds Act, the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act that was signed into law in December.

“ESSA has new requirements for how funds must be used, and the new regulations coupled with a great deal of fiscal uncertainty has led us to be cautious in allocating funds that don’t become finalized until next winter,” said school district spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff.

School interventionist Cindy McKibben is still signed on for the 2017-2018 school year, but said her position is less secure if state funding continues to decrease. She said she is most concerned for the students she works with on a daily basis. The ones who need the most help.

If class size increases and interventionists are reduced, it falls on the teacher to help the students that are really struggling, McKibben said.

“These are the students who would be hardest hit by decreased funding,” she said.

At Mountain View, there are roughly 150 interventions taking place, she said. That does not represent the actual number of students receiving interventions because some have multiple areas where they need extra help, she said.

As soon as the Board of Education approves the budget, which will be before them April 4, Kircher will move forward on his plans.

“It isn’t ‘woe is us’ yet, but we are on the edge of our seats wondering what is next,” Kircher said.

There are roughly four first-year non-tenured teachers who are the most likely to be affected, Kircher said. He said he frankly can’t make any promises either way but has tried to be reassuring. They are all people that are liked by the other staff, have moved to Kenai from different areas and want to be here, he said.

Before the price of oil fell, the school district was in a good position to attract new teachers, Kircher said. The nation’s economy was still recovering from the recession, but Alaska was doing well, he said. Now the situation is inverted.

That doesn’t mean the school district hasn’t faced times like these before, although it will be Kircher’s first time addressing significant cuts.

School district administrators are handling possible reductions differently than in years past. Before, many non-tenured teachers would cool their heels in early spring during what Kircher calls the “pink slip shuffle.” Educators were told their positions were not guaranteed the following year when state funding was uncertain or expected to decrease, he said. Some would preemptively choose to leave while they waited.

“This is a much more sensible way to do it,” Kircher said. “Now we wait and see what will happen.”

Kindergarten teacher Brooke Reynolds is one of the staff waiting to hear what will happen.

“I am confident I will have a job,” Reynolds said. “I just don’t know what that will be.”

She said there is a chance she may teach a different grade level or more than one next year, though her teaching career has only been instructing kindergarten students. Reynolds said it would be pertinent to be able to prepare in advance.

This year, Reynolds has taught 21 students for much of the year. It is a grade level that needs as few students filling seats as possible, she said. It is the foundational year when individual attention is most important so kids can learn the social and academic skills that will help them for the rest of their careers, she said.

Kircher said 84 kindergarteners are enrolled this year, 20 more than the previous year, so they had to add another teacher, making four classrooms total. He said other elementary school teachers and administrators were relieved the classroom size for first year students remains untouched because it is such a crucial year “to establish the skills necessary for students’ future success in school.”

“The school district recognized that too, that’s pretty much a no-brainer,” Kircher said.


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