Bob Griffin: Anchorage schools need to right-size facilities to put the resources into classrooms

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By BOB GRIFFIN

The Anchorage School District could solve much of its chronic budget problems by right-sizing its facilities – especially in excess elementary school floorspace.

Over the next few years, ASD will have fewer than 13,000 elementary students in ASD buildings, with capacity to accommodate more than 27,000. 

The Anchorage School District currently has capacity for 27,210 elementary school students according to  Department of Education elementary school space requirements. The 2023-24 projected ASD elementary school enrollment was 19,958 students. That number is projected to decline to 17,102 by 2028.   

The 2028 projection does not account for over 1,700 sixth graders who will no longer be in elementary schools with the new 6-8 middle school model in Anchorage. It also doesn’t account for the more than 2,400 ASD K-5 students in charter and correspondence programs who don’t use ASD facilities.

That puts student projections in ASD brick and mortar K-5 schools at 12,937 students –or lower, if more parents choose charter or correspondence programs over the next few years.    

Many may consider that excess space a nice luxury. Great! Kids have more elbow room. But that luxury comes at a steep financial burden that robs resources from our kid’s classrooms. 

The average ASD elementary school costs about $250,000/year to heat and light. The salaries for non-classroom teachers (principals, office staff, janitors, etc.) that are unique to each elementary school, averages about $550,000/year. Though the biggest cost of keeping excess floor space open is the long-term maintenance expense. 

The current guidance recommends we invest 2% per year of the current replacement value of our schools to account for long-term maintenance like roof and boiler replacements and other needed future upgrades. Based on our most recent ASD construction projects, our current cost to replace a school is roughly $800/square foot.

Using the average of 60,000 square feet for an Anchorage elementary school, that results in around $960,000/year for long-term maintenance planning. With all those costs considered, Anchorage needs a little over $1.7 million eachyear to operate the average elementary school (teachers not included) or $29 per square foot per year to keep excess elementary schools open.

Keeping-up on long-term maintenance is not something we do very well in Anchorage. The current ASD deferred maintenance list is around $1 billion dollars (yes, with a “B”). Despite a fairly good record of passing maintenance bonds, that list has increased by around $80 million/year over the last several years.

Repurposing some excess floorspace to accommodate the acute needs of our very successful public charter schools is a pretty common-sense solution to some of this real estate glut. Eagle Academy Charter School in Eagle River is just one example. They are arguably one of the highest performing schools in the state of Alaska – operating out of a 50-year-old roller rink, with nearby underutilized campuses.  

ASD currently operates a little over 3.1 million square feet of elementary floorspace while state standards require a little less than 1.5 million for the 2028 projected brick-and-mortar student population. That means we are likely squandering up $48 million per year on elementary school buildings we don’t need (we haven’t addressed middle and high school underutilization). Those squandered resources are not available for other needs — like paying up to 400 teacher salaries.

Bob Griffin is on the board of Alaska Policy Forum and serves on the Alaska Board of Education and Early Development, but writes this in his own capacity. 

Bob Griffin is on the board of Alaska Policy Forum and serves on the Alaska Board of Education and Early Development, but writes this in his own capacity.

19 COMMENTS

  1. This will only get addressed with some other school board members. The emotion that was exhibited when the district chose to threaten the pet projects was predictable and expected. These decisions cannot be emotional. Yet that is what we have elected.

  2. We don’t need space. We need new stuff. Period. More money. A lot more money will fix it all.

    I respect our teachers. But the board. Bloated admin and super. Yea. Not so much. Well actually. Not at all.

    Let teachers teach. Math. Reading. Writing. Personal finance. History.

  3. Buuuttt, what about all our new guests streaming across the border every day…I’m sure they’re being transported across the US with the blessing of most of our Congressmen and local bought-and-paid for politicians and ‘elected’ officials!

  4. This is what we voted for ASD is always in crisis mode and needs more money every year.
    The test scores and finished product ASD is giving us is substandard and the factory is broken.
    We need someone who really cares about the kids and not the money.
    The unions have ruined it all.

  5. Comments disappear here for the oddest of reasons.

    If you have rules, fine. Post them.

    • I noticed this also MA. Not sure what is going on just lately. Suzanne, are you being pressured to restrict topic comments now?

      • No, I am trying to tamp down name calling, foul language, and gross misspellings and intentional misspellings of names, and gobbledygook sentences. Same as always. Thanks, Ginny. – sd

        • I recall just a couple of weeks ago comments to the story about the sale of MOA property for significantly under TAV were deleted and not reinstated.

  6. Bob, thanks for the data-driven analysis of excess school buildings in Anchorage. If this were a private business it would be closing excess schools to remain solvent. For example, Rite-Aid, Target, Walmart, Amazon, Bed Bath & Beyond, have closed excess stores to maintain financial viability.

    And even our Department of Defense has closed excess military facilities under the Base Realignment & Closure Act since 1988. There have been 5 rounds of base closures, totaling nearly 200 installations. These closures have required military families to relocate in short notice. So, families have to take their children out of schools and move to another military base. This causes disruption to families and local economies. But it had to be done to save billions of dollars that could be better spent on mission essential forces. The same needs to be done in the Anchorage School District. Close excess facilities or repurpose them for charter schools to save money that goes to the mission–classroom teachers.

  7. There needs to be a complete top-to-bottom, independent, forensic audit of the ASD conducted to expose the amount of wasted, mis-used and abused funds. It would also uncover the number and $$ amounts of the various “slush” funds and other hidden accounts where our taxpayer dollars are being stashed and lied about to drive the narrative that they need more more. What’s the old saying about it being easy to spend “OPM”…. “Other People’s Money”. The bottom line is that the ASD has plenty of money, it is just wasted by misappropriation, mismanagement, outright abuse, apathy, and utter contempt for the taxpayers.

  8. Maybe the superintendent can sharpen his pencil and draw from all his worldly experience……( other than “ we, I mean the kids prefer chocolate over white milk “)

  9. To me, the term, “right-size facilities” sounds like 1984 newspeak (or was that brave new world?).

  10. Good report however, the 2% of replaced value should be actually 3%. That makes it even worse. The number comes the “Council of Greater City Schools”. Plus a little experience.

  11. You obviously don’t understand that the puropose of ASD is to maximize employemnt for the teachers union. K-12 education is a conduit for that.

  12. Inlet View Elementary, Chugach Optional Elementary, Denali Montessori Elementary School, and Central Middle School of Science are all located in close proximity. Denali Elementary replaced the Old Denali Elementary and is relatively a new structure. Why not Inlet View as Montessori and Denali as a regular elementary ?

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