6 Anchorage schools could be closed next year

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – A list of Anchorage schools being considered for closure 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 “grim budget reality.”

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

“The survey results show a strong sense of reducing excess building capacity by merging schools and programs. The community supports school closures rather than increasing classroom sizes and eliminating programs,” Bryantt wrote. “During today’s working session with the Board, we will focus on the proposed campus closures and consolidations. This is an incredibly moving and painful subject to hear, especially after the immense pressure placed on our community due to the pandemic. “

Bryantt said the influx of federal funds for COVID-19 has given the district a “false sense of security.”

Bryantt noted that the number of kindergartners enrolled in Anchorage schools has dropped 20 percent over the past five years. Similarly, Bryantt noted a 20% decrease in the total number of newborns in Anchorage. Bryantt said the number of students enrolled in Anchorage schools will continue its “steep and steady decline.”

“When student enrollment declines, it has a direct impact on State of Alaska (SOA) funding and the student experience. Because a number of our buildings are under capacity, it becomes extremely difficult to offer the elective courses and services that a family would expect from their neighborhood school, especially since the level of need for specialized services continues to grow. School closure is not something I take lightly – schools are the heart of our communities. But I believe that by right-sizing our schools, there is a pathway to improving the quality of education for our students,” Bryantt wrote.

Bryantt and the school board begin budget discussions that will culminate in the adoption of a budget in February, as required by state law. Bryantt wrote that a decision will be made on potential school closures by the end of December.

“The reality is that our schools are underfunded and this has never been addressed by our state government,” Bryantt wrote. “The second reality is that our district has received insufficient and unstable funding from the SOA for years, and this is hurting our schools. Even if our enrollment hadn’t gone down, a dollar doesn’t stretch as far in 2022 as it did in 2017.”

Campuses currently recommended for closure include:

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

Students from affected schools will be reassigned to neighboring schools. After closing, students from Abbott Loop will go to Kasuun Elementary or Trailside Elementary, and students enrolled in the Birchwood ABC program will go to Homestead or Fire Lake Elementary. Students from Klatt in southern Minnesota will be enrolled in Ocean View, and students from Klatt in northern Minnesota will attend Campbell Elementary. Northwood students will transfer to Lake Hood Elementary and Wonder Park students will move 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 assess cost-cutting options, reduced enrollment is a problem across the country.

“National religious schools, private schools, charter schools, and online learning mechanisms of various types have gained significant market share, and in some districts it’s as high as 9 percent,” Bingham said.

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

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