Governor pledges to fund project to rescue Napakiak school at AFN conference

Published: Dec. 14, 2021 at 2:40 PM AKST|Updated: Dec. 15, 2021 at 4:30 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Speaking at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention, Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced that state funding would be directed to help keep the school building in the Southwest community of Napakiak safe from an eroding riverbank.

Dunleavy said Tuesday that funding will be funneled into the project, which was unveiled Wednesday at the governor’s announcement of the 2023 fiscal year budget.

According to a press release that coincided with the governor’s live announcement, $54.9 million will be coming from the state to go toward the $56 million project, coming from the Unrestricted General Funds and Regional Educational Attendance Area and the Small Municipal School District School Fund.

A public information officer for the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development clarified on Wednesday that the remaining $1.1 million for the school project is the share that will be paid for by the school district.

Previously, $3.1 million had been set aside by the legislature for demolishing the school.

“We need to move the school, we need to rebuild the school to ensure that the kids in Napakiak are going to have a school building that they can go to that will be safe for years to come,” the governor said in front of an online audience. The two-day conference is being livestreamed, instead of being hosted at a public venue, due to COVID-19 concerns.

The William Miller Memorial School in Napakiak, just a handful of miles downstream from Bethel, is under threat from the eroding shoreline of the Kuskokwim River. Dunleavy said it’s currently ranked as one of the highest priority schools in the state to be replaced. Wednesday’s release said it is the top priority on the Department of Education and Early Development’s FY2023 Capital Improvement Projects School Construction Grant Fund List.

Dunleavy also commended the state’s continuing efforts at tribal compacting with Native communities, which would give villages and tribal entities more control of their school systems.

“The idea is by doing this, we are going to hope we’ll get better outcomes for our kids, and will set them on a trajectory to ensure a positive future,” Dunleavy said. “I know how important education is to all of this, I know how important our schools are to all of us.”

Michael Johnson, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, advocated for tribal compacting with several key points, all focusing on the moral imperative behind it.

“Results demand we do this,” Johnson said. “The achievement gap is tragic. Far too many students find themselves on the wrong side of the achievement gap.”

Dr. Miguel Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education, also spoke at the conference Tuesday, emphasizing the power of education to change lives for children in rural communities.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information.

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