Anchorage school closure recommendations goes beyond saving money, CFO says

The Anchorage School District is recommending closing six elementary schools next year to help fill a $68 million budget shortfall
Published: Oct. 19, 2022 at 6:13 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Chief Financial Officer for the Anchorage School District Jim Anderson said that potentially closing six elementary schools — which includes Abbott Loop, Wonder Park, Nunaka Valley, Klatt and Birchwood Elementary — won’t put a big dent in the projected $68 million budget deficit next year.

“Six of them is somewhere in the 3 to 4 million dollars (range) depending on additional busses and some other things,” Anderson said. “That’s about 5% of our total deficit for next year.

Anderson said closing schools that are smaller, where enrollment is declining, can help the district increase efficiencies. He gave the example of school nurses, which were in short supply at the beginning of the school year. Anderson said they were down seven school nurses, but if the district had six fewer schools, it would only have needed to hire one.

There could also be benefits to students who attend bigger schools, according to Anderson. He noted that students who qualify for special education services might have more opportunities to get specialized services from providers who are based at their schools and not traveling between smaller schools.

Still, Anderson said that the district is expecting pushback from the community. He said a recent survey indicated that parents would prefer closing schools to increased class sizes or eliminating programs, but choosing which schools is the hard part.

“We don’t take it lightly when we bring up a list of six schools,” Anderson said. “We know that in each school there is roughly 300 students plus. There’s a lot of people personally, deeply impacted, and they really do wish it was any school but theirs.”

District Superintendent Jharrett Bryantt said when the announcement was made yesterday that the schools on the list are a starting point, and district leadership plans to take comments from the community into consideration. A series of town hall meetings are planned for November where staff, students and community members from each school will have an opportunity to ask questions and give input on the recommendations.