Anchorage School Board says immersion programs will not be cut to save money

Anchorage School Board says immersion programs will not be cut to save money
Published: Nov. 16, 2022 at 9:33 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - In a major update on the budget cuts that the Anchorage School District is considering, the Anchorage School Board announced that the district’s language immersion programs will not be axed.

At Tuesday night’s school board meeting, the support was overwhelming in favor of saving the immersion programs. More than 100 people signed up for public testimony, with a majority of them trying to save the language programs.

However, before they could speak, the president of the school board made an announcement.

“After our work session today, we have decided to take immersion off the list for this year,” ASD School Board President Margo Bellamy said.

The school board says language immersion programs will no longer be considered on the chopping block this upcoming fiscal year. However, the board said that doesn’t mean that it won’t have the potential to be looked at again in the future.

“K-12 immersion programs will continue to be the program model in ASD, but with that said, we want to improve our immersion programs so they can eventually be cost efficient,” district Superintendent Dr. Jharrett Bryantt said.

Numerous students and parents testified Tuesday, wearing shirts, trinkets and stickers emphasizing with messages on why they believe the programs are so important.

“Today, it is especially important to teach American students Russian culture and language,” one student said. “I think that knowledge of Russian is important because of the world’s current situation. That’s why we need the Russian immersion program, thanks for saving the Russian program.”

“The program has offered us many exciting experiences and unique opportunities,” another student said, making specific references to the Chinese language program. “The immersion program not only brings our school together, but also bridges Chinese culture into the Anchorage community and connects us with the people of China.”

Tuesday’s work session laid out some significant numbers for school board members. District Chief Financial Officer Jim Anderson said that closing the six schools recommended for closure would save around $4.1 million.

Eliminating IGNITE would save about $3 million, the district says. Moving sixth graders to middle schools would save about $3.8 million.

There’s also the potential of saving money by outsourcing some sports, the district said. Officials said they are specifically looking at the sports that cost the most per athlete, headlined by hockey, swimming and gymnastics programs.

However, the board said the total recommended cuts currently amount to just over $32 million — not even half of the estimated budget deficit of $68 million.

Language immersion programs might be off the table for this year, but there’s still the possibility of up to six schools closing. The next school closure town hall will take place Wednesday at Klatt Elementary at 6 p.m.

In an email Tuesday evening, the Anchorage School District said the immersion programs will work on recruitment strategies and other ways of balancing class sizes, but no other changes have been made thus far.