School closures, outsourcing sports, cuts to orchestra and band, immersion — ASD braces for dramatic cuts

ASD braces for dramatic cuts
Published: Nov. 2, 2022 at 3:15 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Almost every program, elective or position is being considered for cuts as the Anchorage School District struggles with its budget deficit.

“The challenge is every single one of these really is the reason that kids excited when they wake up in the day,” Chief Financial Officer for the district Jim Anderson said.

The school district will be short around $68 million in its 2024 budget.

ASD educates nearly 43,500 students over almost 2,000 square miles with more than 130 schools and programs.

The Alaska Legislature hasn’t raised the annual funding for Alaska’s school districts on a per-student basis — except for a small $30 increase in the last legislative session — since July of 2016.

“School programs, immersion, IGNITE for gifted students,” Anderson said. “Sixth grade band and orchestra, we’re even talking about moving all sixth grade to middle school.”

This is the beginning of very difficult conversations ASD expects to have with the community over the next few months.

Six schools are being recommended for closure under the first phase — with more to come, according to M.J. Thim, a spokesperson for ASD texted.

ASD may also outsource sports, which means community sponsors would pay to run programs instead of ASD, with the three most expensive sports being boy’s hockey, swimming and girl’s gymnastics.

Anderson says sports costs the district around $5 million, but it collects less than $1 million in fees to cover the expenses.

Hockey alone costs around $2,000 per student, according to Anderson.

Cuts to IGNITE would save $2.8 million. It serves more than 1,800 elementary students with a highly gifted program at Rogers Park, Romig Middle and a high school level.

Immersion programs cost $2 million at the elementary level and includes Spanish, Japanese, Russian, Yup’ik and Mandarin Chinese.

Approximately 8,000 ASD students are enrolled in a world language class or immersion program annually, according to the district’s website.

“When you look at school closures, and you look at programs, and you don’t flippantly talk about them, as if it’s like, ‘this is equal to $2 million dollars,’” Anderson said.

“We know what it really means. This is equal to a lot of joy and a lot of opportunity for a big group of kids, and their families, and for those faculty that spend their whole summer trying to get even better at it that’s what they live for. But we have a $68 million deficit and we do have to get to zero.”