Unalaska Teachers Oppose Dunleavy's Budget Proposal, Fearing Deep Cuts To Staff, Programs

Feb 14, 2019

Unalaska teachers pose for photos Wednesday afternoon, following the announcement of Gov. Mike Dunleavy's amended budget proposal.
Credit Laura Kraegel/KUCB

In Unalaska, a group of teachers gathered Wednesday to condemn the Dunleavy administration's proposed cuts to public education — and call on local residents for their support.

"Are we looking happy? Or are we looking angry?"

Eleven teachers mulled those questions in Unalaska's high school library, as they posed with signs that read "Education is Priceless" and "Fund our Future."

They were preparing to take photos to share on social media, with the Legislature, and with the governor's office.

"Hopeful?" one suggested. 

But even as the educators decided to adopt hopeful expressions for the photos, they said they were deeply frustrated by Gov. Mike Dunleavy's proposal, which would cut about $300 million in school funding across the state.

ESL teacher Joey Fordyce called it an "insult."

"A 23 percent cut is what they're saying per student, and I heard that's over $1.6 million in our district," she said. "It's an insult to us as teachers, but it's also an insult to the future of Alaska."

Losing that much funding in Unalaska could mean losing multiple teachers and programs, according to fifth grade teacher Charity Kitsyuk. She said she spoke as a parent and an educator.

"We've lived in other communities [with] class sizes of like 30 kids and no sports and no after school activities," she said. "All of those things that you get here — all of those things are the things that are at risk. The reasons why we live here and have our children here."

Language arts teacher Amy Purevsuren said the educators are also worried about children and families outside the Unalaska City School District.

"We're a pretty well-supported district," she said. "There are a lot of districts out there that don't have the support that we have, so I think we're concerned about every student throughout Alaska getting the equitable education they deserve."

Still, Dunleavy's budget proposal is just a starting point, and that gives science teacher David Gibson some hope.

"I think it's important to realize that there will probably be cuts," he said. "But I am very hopeful that it will not be as drastic as it's being portrayed right now."

The teachers encouraged Unalaskans to educate themselves on the proposal — and if they disagree with it, to call and write to their state lawmakers and the governor's office.

"I think the more we can inundate them with 'Hey, you're kind of cutting our legs out from underneath us,' the more they'll hopefully see that we can't just cut everything," said Davidson. "It's not practical."

The proposed cuts — and Unalaska's response —are expected to be major topics of conversation at next week's school board meeting.

The board convenes Thursday, Feb. 21 at 7 p.m. in the high school library.