Anchorage School District to consider closing older schools
The Anchorage School District has 700 fewer students this year than last year. The district is concerned that trend will continue into the future.
That's why it's now working with a consulting firm, Western Demographics, to look for ways to address the excess capacity. One potential solution is closing older, more costly schools, and consolidating into newer more cost-efficient schools.
"I've been asked to do an efficiency study of the district," Shannon Bingham, president of Western Demographics said. "We have some buildings that are older buildings that are 50 or 60 years old that are getting to the point where we are throwing good money at bad to maintain them."
Some of the ideas being considered are replacing old buildings with new ones. It's an idea happening across the Western United States. A lot of big school districts are doing away with the old buildings and replacing them with new ones.
"We are exploring some of our options," Bingham said. "We want to give our parents and children a better environment to learn in. Some of the ideas are if we have four schools that are running at 65 percent of their capacity, can we consolidate those into three? Can we replace some of the ailing ones with a new facility and save operational dollars and provide a better quality learning environment?"
The school district doesn't like openly talking about it but with the dropping school population and the current budget bind, all options are being considered.
John Bulkow and Jason Bergerson, co-chairs for the school district's Capitol Improvement Advisory Committee says now is the time for the school district to get the community involved and to stop using linguistic gymnastics to avoid saying the words, "We are considering closing one or more schools."
"When people buy their house, they are literally invested in their local school," John Bulkow said. "It's sort of like people with their congressman. Everyone hates congress but likes their congressman. It's sort of the same thing with the schools in that everyone says, the schools are under capacity and someone should close, but not mine."
That's one of the reasons the district doesn't want to stir the hornet's nest.
"Capacity reduction or something like that," Bulkow said. "What you're really saying is your going to close some schools. So get the conversation going out there in the community. It's something that is eventually going to have to happen. As with anything, it's probably going to have to require a bond to build the new schools. We need to get the community thinking of why we need to do this now."
There are five to eight buildings in the district that are in pretty bad condition.
"Continuing to invest in those buildings would be throwing good money after bad," Bingham said. "It's just like I have a 2003 Toyota van and I keep fixing it up. It's breaks, it's transmission, a tune-up, ignition coils. At a certain point you decide to buy a new van. That's a trend in big public schools nationally."
There are seven to 10 pockets around the district being looked into, including schools on JBER, downtown Anchorage, east Anchorage, the westside corridor of Seward Highway and around Abbott Loop Elementary. This is just the early stages of a very long process.
"The efficiency study-- if we make recommendations, that'll be a five- to eight-year deployment schedule," Bingham said. "We would have to do a series of bond elections in order to fund some facility replacements for some of these older buildings. Right now we are on an incremental model where we do one year's worth of stuff at a time. We take these baby steps and never collect enough money to completely scrape off a building. So, that would be a shift in how we do business."
The process would include a six-month study that includes a five- to eight-year facility process. The start time would be around the fall of 2019, giving the public a year-and-a-half notice.
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