The superintendent of the Anchorage School District says it's doing a better job with education costs than other similar-sized school districts in the country.

ASD Superintendent Deena Bishop says the school district decided to uncover what census data says when it comes to the state's education spending after lawmakers were given information on state finances during the latest legislative session.

"What we found was that, wow, we're doing pretty well for our community and our taxpayers," she said.

Photo: Cost of Education in Alaska, Dr. Deena Bishop's presentation on August 6, 2019

According to the data, 18 equal size districts in the U.S. have a higher total percentage of state revenue than those in Alaska. Six districts also have a higher per pupil total spending, which includes costs related to transportation, nutrition, capital, grants and more.

Bishop also says when education spending per student is broken down even further, it was discovered that seven districts have a higher per pupil spending for salaries and wages, four districts have a higher per pupil spending for instruction, 23 districts have a higher general administration cost per pupil and 41 districts have a higher per pupil cost for instructional staff support.

According to Bishop's data presentation, Alaska's foundation formula is "designed to provide equitable funding per student - not equal funding."

School districts in Alaska, she says, are different because their structure, organization and funding vary significantly, especially when it comes to what she refers to as the "Big Five" — Anchorage, Matanuska-Susitna, Fairbanks, Juneau and Kenai.

"The Big Five aren’t the same size, nor do they cover similar geographic regions," the presentation states. "The smallest, Juneau, is approximately 10% the size of Anchorage."

ASD's analysis of census data eliminates certain specific data sets, such as federal funding and transportation revenue, to more accurately compare state districts.

Bishop says Anchorage is the only district that plans, contracts, and manages construction projects. The other districts conduct planning, but are supported by their boroughs for construction contracting and project management. She also highlights that each district serves a different student population.

Photo: Cost of Education in Alaska, Dr. Deena Bishop's presentation on August 6, 2019

"Anchorage has the largest diversity of any district in the state, and some of the most ethnically diverse schools in the nation," the presentation states. "Each year a large number of students move to Anchorage, for a portion of the school year, in order to receive supports that aren’t available in rural areas. Some districts must fly students in order to compete in sports or activities."

Anchorage Education Association President Tom Klaameyer agreed with Bishop's assessment on the status of ASD compared to districts around the country and statewide.

According to Klaameyer, Bishop's report shows the unique conditions of Alaska and what teachers and school districts in the state go through, saying that taking advantage of resources can be challenging — especially in education.

Bishop's full presentation is available online.

Scott Gross contributed to this report.

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