Report: More than 1,000 Students May Leave District if F-16s are Moved from Eielson
Three F-16 Fighting Falcons fly in formation over the Pacific Alaska Range Complex. Photo Courtesy: USAF
FAIRBANKS — If students are going to leave Eielson Air Force Base in the next year, the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District hopes they stay as long as possible.
In a task force report on Eielson and the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, the Air Force estimated that Fairbanks will lose 1,062 military students if the F-16 squadron leaves the area.
The school district doesn’t even project that many students in next year’s enrollment at Eielson.
The district’s projected enrollment for Anderson Elementary, Crawford Elementary and Eielson Junior/Senior High schools combined is 1,005. If all those students leave, that means the closure of all three schools.
Mike Fisher, the district’s chief financial officer, calculated a rough estimate of Eielson’s downsizing’s impact on the school budget.
He presented his findings at a school board work session Monday night.
Students at the three schools generate about $10.7 million in the state’s foundation formula funding. If there are 10 intensive needs students added to the equation, the district could lose $11.4 million with the loss of its students. The district would also lose money from federal impact aid revenue and pupil transportation funding.
Fewer operating costs would save the district about $9.5 million.
Fisher estimated the district would lose $4.7 million overall.
The district has 102 staff positions at its schools on base. If the schools close, the district will not be able to hold on to all the positions.
However, teachers and other staff have contracts for the coming year. If students and families begin leaving before the enrollment counts in October, “then we have a big problem,” Lewis said.
That would mean administrators would need to find places for those teachers and other staff elsewhere in the district, and the district would lose all the student-generated money. October enrollment counts are what the state and federal grants and formulas are based on.
Right now, Lewis said the district is planning that the school year will start as normal.
“We’re planning that we have to provide services for those students in the fall because at this point in time, they’re still on base, and we have to provide school for those kids.”
Lewis said he has heard that the big move could occur in March or April. No one knows when families will begin to move, though. Some people may want to leave before a new semester begins, so their children don’t have to start at a new school in the middle of a class.
Another issue with the report is its estimated 1,062 number of students.
“We don’t think that’s an accurate number,” Lewis told board members on Monday. “But we’re responding to the [task force] report.”
Lewis said administrators will be going through different types of scenarios as the district tries to prepare for a loss of students. If half the base’s population leaves, that could mean a certain number of students is left behind, too.
If too few students to keep a school open are left behind, they could possibly be pushed into North Pole schools, which have recently been experiencing overcrowding issues.
North Pole Middle School is pretty packed, Lewis said, but North Pole High School has some room for extra students.
“If it does happen, we have to see what’s left,” he said. “We just have to wait and see where those kids land.”
The school district will pass on its findings to the local Tiger Team, a group of community leaders who have questioned the Air Force move.
“Let’s keep our fingers crossed,” Lewis said. “This is not a good situation.”
Contact Fairbanks Daily News-Miner staff writer Reba Lean at 907-459-7523.