August 22, 2013 | Vol. 39, No. 34

To the Editor

Schools are scrambling

To the Editor:

Back to school is always an exciting time. In Alaska, every one of our 53 school districts and school staffs have diligently prepared so the new school year will be one of deep learning and strong emotional growth for all of Alaska's students. As educators, nothing pleases us more than welcoming back students to launch a new academic year.

This year, like none other in recent memory, school districts across the country, including every district in Alaska are scrambling. Districts are feeling the negative effects of operating budgets that have been reduced as a result of the across-the-board federal budget cuts, known as “sequestration”.

Locally, Petersburg Schools have been blessed with outstanding Borough support. While we are making adjustments to cope with reduced federal support and “flat” state funding, our program remains strong and vibrant. Through conservative spending practices and union contracts negotiated with employees who are very sensitive to the unique needs and qualities of Petersburg, the District remains financially and programmatically strong.

As 53 unique and different schools systems, we understand and recognize the important work of addressing the nuances when it comes to our nation's budget and the challenges our policy makers face in managing spending, revenue and mandatory programs. The reality is, the reductions are harming what matters most – our students and our teaching corps.

Data from a survey released this month (August 2013) by ASSA, The Alaska Schools Superintendents Association, indicates that sequestration translates into reductions, which negatively affect personnel, curriculum, facilities and operations. More than half of Alaska superintendents who participated in the survey indicated reductions would have a negative impact on classroom instruction. The survey found that slashing professional development, increasing class size and deferring technology purchases are unfortunate realities.

In Alaska, the Legislature and Governor have held funding for public schools at the same level of commitment for the last four years. This, combined with the federal cuts, has created a very significant challenge for every district. We must find a way to see positive changes in education funding at both the state and federal level, of the reductions in programs and services will only become greater.

Despite what is happening nationally and at the state level, districts across Alaska are making a pledge to stay strong. We will honor the families of our community. We will do the very best for students who enter our classrooms everyday seeking and deserving a quality education. Their future depends on it. Their lives depend on us.

Dr. Robert Thomason

Superintendent

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