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Fairbanks School Board approves closing of two elementary schools

At is February 1 regular meeting, the Fairbanks North Star Borough School board passed a motion...
At is February 1 regular meeting, the Fairbanks North Star Borough School board passed a motion that will bring changes to the district starting with the 2022-2023 school year.(Alex Bengel/KTVF)
Published: Feb. 2, 2022 at 7:33 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - At the Feb. 1 regular meeting, the Fairbanks North Star Borough School Board passed a motion that will bring changes to the district starting with the 2022-2023 school year.

The district is facing a multi-million dollar budget shortfall. In an effort to balance the spending plan, the board voted in favor of closing Joy and Anderson Elementary Schools.

The motion will also repurpose Nordale Elementary School. Nordale will be used to house alternative learning programs, including eLearning and Fairbanks BEST Homeschool.

Lastly, all middle schools in the district will house grades 6-8.

“My hands are pretty much tied. I’ve got a financial responsibility to this district, and when our piggy bank is zero, we have to do something. This is where we’re at,” said board member Matthew Sampson in regards to his affirmative vote.

The plan is scheduled to go into effect at the start of the 2022-2023 school year.

At the meeting, the board heard public testimony from community members, all but one of which opposed some part of the plan.

“Please consider options that are actually viable. Closing neighborhood schools is reckless and irresponsible,” said Heather Damario in her public testimony.

“Joy is my second home and is part of my family,” said Joy Elementary student E.J. Read.

“If this school closes, I won’t be able to talk to my friends anymore,” Nordale student Kyler Lanz testified.

After much debate within the board, the plan passed in a split vote of 4 to 3.

The majority included Jennifer Luke, April Smith, Maggie Matheson, and Matthew Sampson.

“These are the times that we have to make really hard decisions. They’re not the decisions that we always want to make, but... they’re decisions that have to be made at this point in time,” Luke addressed to the community after the vote.

“My deepest sympathies to the many students that are going to be impacted by this decision. It’s unfortunate that it’s our most vulnerable students, and that we couldn’t come up with a better solution,” offered board member Erin Morotti.

Following the vote, the audience filed out of the Board Room, largely in silence.

Questions remain as to how portions of the plan will be implemented, and how it will accommodate the needs of Special Education students.

With declining enrollment numbers, and a resulting loss of revenue, school district officials say this isn’t the last cost-cutting measure that will be discussed in the coming years.

A recording of the full meeting can be found on the school district’s YouTube page.

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