uperintendent of Nome Public Schools Jamie Burgess gives the State of the Schools presentation to the Nome Common Council on November 27.

Superintendent delivers state of the schools report

Superintendent Jamie Burgess delivered her annual State of the Schools report to Mayor John Handeland and the Nome Common Council before their regular council meeting last Monday.
Burgess discussed successes and struggles at each of the schools and general difficulties experienced by the district due to the state government’s flat funding, challenges with teacher recruitment and retention and rising number of repairs needed to maintain schools.
The base student allocation is the amount of funding a school district receives from the state per student. It has remained the same for the past eight years. Last year, the School Board Association asked for a $860 increase per student but was not successful. This year they’re lobbying for a $1,655 increase. Burgess said the Nome school district builds the budget assuming they will receive no extra money, in case the governor slashes the education budget again, like he did this year.
The Legislature this spring passed a one-time school funding boost of $175 millions, but the governor in June vetoed it and slashed $87.5 million. This left school districts, including Nome, scrambling to adjust their budgets.
“Our budget this year is going to be really, really challenging,” Burgess said.
Negotiations for staff contracts will begin again soon, Burgess anticipates it will be difficult. The lack of guaranteed funding from the state makes it difficult to ensure long-term raises for teachers. Last year, the district negotiated a one-year contract for the first time. “We cannot build our staffing because our staffing agreements typically are three years,” Burgess told the council. When creating the budget, the district will look at what they can cut to save money, this may mean potential layoffs which the district would like to avoid if possible, Burgess said.
In the past few months during school board meetings teachers and staff have voiced their frustrations regarding their salary during the public comments period. Burgess said, to her knowledge, Nome Public Schools provided the largest raise of any Alaskan district with a 5 percent increase in salary for the one-year contract negotiation. Despite this, Burgess said the district has a large issue with recruitment and retention of teachers. This year, the district hired five international teachers, and will likely go this route of hiring from outside the United States again, Burgess said. However, this comes with its own challenges. The teachers that were hired on to start at the beginning of the school year are not here yet due to processing times of their H1-B visas. The process was started five months ago. Burgess said the teachers should be here for the second school semester. “We learned we can’t wait until the last minute to hire international teachers, the process takes way too long,” Burgess said. Four of the teachers will work in the Elementary school, and one will help out in the special education program. Special Education paraprofessionals have an even bigger turnover in the district Burgess said, and last year the number of special education students has increased.
The struggle of finding additional paraprofessionals to aid students is compounded by the district working to improve the disproportionality of Alaska Native special education students receiving suspensions.
Last year the state identified the district as disproportionate with Alaska Native special education students four or five times more likely to receive exclusionary discipline than Alaska Native students who are not in the special education program. The district is working to reduce exclusionary discipline practices and reporting the numbers to the state at the end of the year.
For the 2023 school year, the government passed a bill to provide Alaska school districts with a large one-time increase in funding, Governor Mike Dunleavy slashed that budget in half. This left many districts’ capital projects like Nome-Beltz’s roof replacement on the waitlist for another year. The district is hoping to work with an application writer to help score the project higher on the priorities list next year, Burgess said.
The elementary school is also having roof problems, with one classroom rendered unusable because of the continued leaks in the ceiling. The elementary school also needs new fire alarms and hot water heaters. The state requires that the district pays 30 percent of the project cost. “We have to have money for all of those [projects] ready to go even though it may be several years before the state might get around to one,” Burgess said.

Other Updates
Enrollment in the district is consistent this year in all the schools, though it dropped during COVID, numbers have risen almost to where they were before.
The new assistant superintendent Doug Pfau has been adjusting well and has a consistent presence when Burgess has to travel.
The district has been implementing Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, or PBIS, training at each of the schools as a better way or disciplining and encouraging students. The goal is to reduce exclusionary suspension for all students.
A floating substitute teacher was hired for Nome-Beltz and is present at the school daily.
Nome Elementary School is currently struggling due to the wait for international teachers and Alaska Reads Act requirements, which are an “onerous process,” according to Burgess. Administration is working to take the burden off of teachers.
The budget work session for the 2024 school year will occur December 19 at the Nome Elementary School and on Zoom. Burgess encourages staff and community members to attend to better understand what goes into creating a district budget.

 

The Nome Nugget

PO Box 610
Nome, Alaska 99762
USA

Phone: (907) 443-5235
Fax: (907) 443-5112

www.nomenugget.net

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