By DAVID BOYLE
The Anchorage School District is nearly $68 million in the hole for next year’s budget, mostly due to the board approving the use of one-time federal Covid relief money to pay salaries and benefits, which are recurring costs.
Again, the Anchorage School District has its hand out seeking more money from the Legislature for its failure to adhere to its fiduciary responsibility.
At the Nov. 15 Anchorage School Board meeting, School Board member Dave Donley strongly encouraged the board members and the administration to focus on accountability if they want more funding from the Legislature.
Alaska has the shortest school day and the shortest school year in the nation, Donley said. As the district seek more money, it should evaluate how short school days could be impacting student achievement and may not be the best use of limited resources.
A simple calculation shows a student could receive as much as one and one-half year less class time between kindergarten through 12th grade time, when compared with schools in most other states.
A winning strategy for more funding would be more accountability for the state dollars now expended, Donley said.
He also said that there are winning curricula in the charter and ABC schools. The Spalding reading and Saxon math programs are successful as shown by the recent state tests.
Yet, the district wants to close one of the ABC schools instead of closing a failing school.
In the past 15-20 years the curricula decisions were taken away from the teachers and parents and given to committees; these committees were stacked by the superintendent.
A few years ago, a math curriculum committee was formed by the district to replace the failing EveryDay Math program. This committee was made up of 35 people; only five were from the community.
The committee looked at five math programs. One of these was the Saxon program. It was the first one to be discarded. Today, it is the most successful program in the district’s charter and ABC schools.
It was clear that the district and the head of the math program wanted to go with a math program that was very similar to the EveryDay Math program. The district chose GoMath, which is EveryDay Math lite.
Parents were only invited to participate as “window dressing” to make it appear as if the public were actually involved in the selection process.
Donley also referred to the lack of student success in the state’s test scores. When he first was elected to the board, he asked how many third grade students were retained if they could not read at grade level.
The district responded that only four of the more than 3,000 students who could not either read or do math at grade level were retained, which is unfair to the students and jeopardizes their future learning.
Donley summed up by stating that the shortest day, the shortest year, and non-retention of students leads to low student achievement.
He wants the district to identify the unsuccessful classrooms, identify the causes, and solve this problem with resources–money.
How did the board respond?
Margo Bellamy, school board president, did not like public disagreement. She was at a loss for words on how to handle the “personal comment” period on the agenda, when comments were made that she doesn’t like.
“Everything doesn’t have to become a public disagreement or misunderstanding,” Bellamy said.
Her message to member Donley: Toe the line in public and present a united front. She also stated that even parents should present a united front.
David Boyle is the education writer for Must Read Alaska.