6 Anchorage schools could face closure next school year

6 Anchorage schools could face closure next school year
Updated: Oct. 18, 2022 at 3:00 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A list of Anchorage schools under consideration to be closed was released today by Anchorage School District Superintendent Jharrett Bryantt.

Bryantt wrote in an email to parents that the $68 million budget shortfall has left the district with a “bleak budgetary reality.”

Bryantt stressed that parents and community members will be encouraged to engage in discussions about what schools may need to be closed.

“Survey results show a strong feeling to reduce excess building capacities by merging schools and programs. The community supports school closures over classroom size increase and program elimination,” Bryantt wrote. “During today’s work session with the board, we will focus on proposed campus closures and consolidations. This is an incredibly emotional and painful topic to hear, particularly after the immense strain put on our community due to the pandemic. "

Bryantt said that the influx of federal COVID-19 funding gave the district a “false sense of security.”

Bryantt noted that the number of kindergarteners enrolled in Anchorage schools has declined by 20% over the last five years. Similarly, Bryantt noted a 20% decrease in the total of newborns in Anchorage. Bryantt said that the number of students enrolled in Anchorage schools will continue on a “steep and steady decline.”

“When student enrollment declines, that has a direct impact on funding from the State of Alaska (SOA), and the student experience. Because a number of our buildings are under capacity, it becomes incredibly challenging to offer the electives and services that a family would expect from their neighborhood school, particularly as the level of need for specialized services continues to grow. Closing a school is not anything I take lightly–schools are the heartbeat of our communities. But I believe that by right-sizing our schools, there is a path to improve the quality of education for our students,” Bryantt wrote.

Bryantt and the school board are beginning budget discussions that will culminate with the passage of a budget in February as required by state statute. Bryantt wrote that a decision will be reached on potential school closures by the end of December.

“The reality is our schools are being underfunded and it was never addressed by our state government,” Bryantt wrote. “The second reality is that our District has been given insufficient and unstable funding from the SOA for years, and it is hurting our schools. Even if our enrollment had not declined, a dollar does not stretch as far in 2022 as it did in 2017. "

The campuses currently being recommended for closure include:

  • Abbott Loop Elementary School
  • Birchwood Elementary School
  • Klatt Elementary School
  • Nunaka Valley Elementary School
  • Northwood Elementary School
  • Wonder Park Elementary School

Students from the affected schools will be reassigned to nearby schools. After closure, Abbott Loop students would go to Kasuun Elementary or Trailside Elementary, and students enrolled in the Birchwood ABC program will go to Homestead or Fire Lake Elementary. Klatt students south of Minnesota will be registered to Ocean View, and Klatt students north of Minnesota will attend Campbell Elementary. Northwood students will transfer to Lake Hood Elementary, and Wonder Park students will relocate to Williwaw. Nunaka students with addresses east of Boniface Parkway will move to Chester Valley Elementary, and those residing west of Boniface will attend Russian Jack Elementary.

According to Shannon Bingham, a consultant hired by the district to evaluate cost-saving options, a reduction in enrollment is an issue faced across the country.

“Nationwide church schools, private schools, charter schools and online learning mechanisms of various types have gained a significant amount of market share, and in some districts it ranges as high as 9%,” Bingham said.

Previously this school year, Ursa Major Elementary School — located on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson — was closed due to remaining earthquake damage from 2018. Additionally, the district has dealt with a shortage of bus drivers by switching groups on and off of bus service.