Cuts and closures loom for Anchorage School District

ASD identifies areas of possible savings to close a $68 million budget gap
Cuts and closures loom for Anchorage School District
Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 9:30 PM AKDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage School District executive board met Tuesday to identify areas of potential savings within the district’s fiscal year 2024 budget.

The district has pinpointed programs and facilities that could be changed, altered or eliminated to help close the $68 million gap in the budget.

Special programs such as language immersion instruction in the middle grades and pull-out programs like the gifted and talented program IGNITE could be cut.

Another possible change to the middle school model would see students switching schools in the sixth grade, rather than the seventh.

Currently, only three middle schools — Begich, Clark and Mirror Lake — combine sixth grade instruction with that of seventh and eighth grade. Consolidating the three middle grades would allow the school district to save money on staffing, facility maintenance and transportation, according to the school board.

School closures are still on the table as well.

There are 18 Anchorage schools with a student body that is 65% of capacity or lower. There are also 19 schools that are nearly full, with 95% enrollment. It’s a discrepancy that translates to the school district spending money to teach fewer students in more locations.

Combining the middle grades would allow the district to suspend funding for band and orchestra instruction at the schools for sixth graders that still attend elementary school.

One of the causes of the budget shortfall is an increase in the school district’s operational costs while base student allocation funding — the amount each school receives per enrolled student — has remained largely unchanged since 2017.

The needs of students have also changed since then, reflecting a change in education delivery methods and health concerns that emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Insurance coverage is an ongoing and unavoidable need that sees costs increase with every school year. As the risks and liability of schools increase, so does the amount of money school districts have to spend on insurance premiums and deductibles.

One vital form of protection is in the area of cybersecurity, which the district pays for on a month-by-month basis.

Other considerations include delaying start times for students, but the school board has yet to determine if starting school later in the day would benefit students.

The district has hired Colorado-based Shannon Bingham of Western Demographics, Inc. to simulate how changes to school boundaries and school consolidations or closures would affect students.

Bingham will also evaluate data collected through the district’s budget solutions survey, which ASD hopes will identify the priorities of district students and families. The survey is available in Hmong, Korean, Tagalog, Samoan and Spanish, as well as English to encourage participation.