The Haines Borough has taken out more than $18 million in bonds to pay for a new school and renovations. (Emily Files)

The Haines School. (Emily Files)

At a budget workshop last week, the Haines School Board addressed the perception that the district is too administration-heavy. The assistant principal is retiring this year and that position will not be filled. But there are still three administrators for a school district of about 250 students.

The school district is downsizing by three staff next year. The positions of music teacher Jason Muccino and reading specialist Janice Byerlee were cut.

On the administration side, Curriculum Director and Assistant Principal Cheryl Stickler is retiring. She is considered a half-time administrator because curriculum falls under the teaching category.

The district also lost one special education teacher last year who was not replaced.

With those reductions, the district is looking at a $250,000 deficit. The district can draw from its fund balance of about $480,000 to fill that gap. But that brings down savings to around $200,000, leaving the district in a precarious position in the future.

At a recent workshop, school board member Lisa Schwartz, who was on the phone, said residents who talk to her keep bringing up one concern.

“It is a very common perception that the school is too heavy administratively,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz pointed out that in recent years, duties that used to go to teachers and other employees were shifted to administration, where new positions have been added. A couple years ago, Superintendent Ginger Jewell created a Director of Students Services job, which was filled by Kim Cunningham. She oversees special education, standardized testing and federal grants.

“I’ve had people come up to me recently and say ‘well they’re either gonna be cutting administrators or they’re gonna cut teachers. It’s that simple,'” Schwartz said. “And I’m like, wow really? I don’t think anything’s that simple.”

But, Schwartz said, it’s something the district should try to ‘get ahead of’ by talking about.

The board talked about the idea of shifting duties like test supervision and curriculum development to non-administrators. Principal Rene Martin, Cunningham and Stickler all said that would add to teachers’ already significant workloads.

Superintendent Tony Habra defended the current level of administration.

“I understand that people especially people who don’t understand what administration does are very quick to say administration needs to be cut. I get that,” Habra said. “And I am always looking at that and I am always questioning are we heavy? And we are reducing. But administration does do good things for a school district and needs to be in place for a school district to grow.”

School board president Anne Marie Palmieri asked the board if they wanted to direct staff to make changes to the budget related to this discussion.

“I think it’s really important that all of us on the board buy into this and believe it and believe that we need to have the level of administration that we do,” Palmieri said. “Because we’re the ones setting the budget. And so if we think it should be one way then we should make that decision.”

The board didn’t decide to make further cuts to administration at this time. But Schwartz said it has to be on the table if the budget keeps shrinking.

“[If] enrollment doesn’t go up and we have no other source of income coming in, it’s not gonna be long until we have to look not just at how much we’re spending on administration, but we have to look at the whole thing,” Schwartz said. “People are gonna have to do more for less.”

Superintendent Habra agreed that as funding gets tighter, the district will have to examine every position on its payroll.