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Considerations over Houston rebuild, student credits postponed at Mat-Su Borough School District board meeting

Earthquake repairs amendment was tabled; class credit adjustments brought forth at regular meeting
The board meets, with a public audience, on Aug. 19, 2020.
The board meets, with a public audience, on Aug. 19, 2020.(KTUU)
Published: Aug. 19, 2020 at 10:35 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Mat-Su Borough School District School Board on Wednesday gathered during a regular meeting, focusing primarily on two items with large impacts to two different groups of students: The first, an amendment potentially putting the board on record as being in support of a retrofit for part of Houston Middle School; and the second, a non-action item recommending that graduation requirements for the class of 2021 be reduced.

Public testimony on non-agenda items, however, started things off with back-and-forth over mask requirements within the school district. A handful of people testified on the topic, with most of them in support of students wearing masks, though one woman was vehemently against the policy.

“You’d better tell the school system where my kids go to school that they don’t have to wear a mask,” she said. “This is a social experiment. It’s social engineering, and you guys have been to college, and you know that.”

Most of those who testified on the opposite end, in favor of mask requirements, were local physicians largely thanking the district for implementing the rules.

“You worked hard to open schools safely,” said Dr. Katherine Naylor, “including cohorting students, implementing physical distancing and requiring masks for students and staff.”

As for the plan for repairs of Houston Middle School, that was under intense scrutiny, with a proposal on the table to put the board on record as being in support of the retrofit even if the “cost estimates of construction exceeds the cost estimates.”

The MSBSD context description of the resolution states that, “Due to the extensive nature of the repairs recommended by the Borough’s design architect and structural engineer to the administration wing of Houston Middle School, District Administration is recommending an amendment... The amendment, if approved, outlines the Board’s support for replacing the administration wind of Houston Middle School if cost estimates for the repairs exceeds the cost estimates to replace the administration wing.”

A replacement was recommended after the design architect found “more than anticipated repairs are required.”

Current cost estimates for several options for the Houston Middle School retrofit, according to the Office of the School Board, include a $15,701,439 price tag to repair the entire building to like kind and quality prior to the earthquake; a cost of $34,500,000, up from $28,884,817, to repair the gymnasium and administration wings, and replace the academic wing; and a potential charge of $48,765,761 to replace the entire building.

After several board members pointed out that the writing of the amendment did not address their concerns over what might come next with the repairs – for example, how federal funding could factor in, or how solidly the changes might communicate support of a possible full rebuild – the board took a break to rework the wording. In the end, the group voted unanimously to table the amendment, instead opting to put it on pause as a whole until a joint meeting with the borough on Sept. 8.

The second major item was non-action and focused on high school seniors: A proposal in which graduation requirements - only for the class of 2021 - would be reduced from 24.5 credits to 22.5 credits, with the change coming solely from an adjustment to general elective requirements, was introduced Wednesday. The adjustment, if or when it is approved, would specifically drop the general electives credit number from 9.5 to 7.5.

“I am all for raising the bar,” said MSBSD Superintendent Randy Trani, “but we’re in a different time right now. And the bar has been raised for all of our students already.”

On top of that, the district is still working to figure out what enrollment numbers will look like down the line.

Mat-Su Borough students at public schools returned to classes Wednesday morning. For more information directly from the school board, click here.

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