Bob Griffin: Anchorage voters rejected Inlet View school proposal, and district has too much school property

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By BOB GRIFFIN

Anchorage voters already rejected the Inlet View expansion proposal in April. Some are now advocating that we ignore the voters and knock Inlet View down and replace it with a $34.3 million, $742 per square foot — $170,000 per student — major school expansion project, 42% larger than the existing campus. Worse yet, the money currently being considered to fund the rejected project was intended for property tax relief.

This expansion proposal has exceptionally bad timing because Anchorage School District is simultaneously considering retiring six schools in other neighborhoods, reflecting the dramatic drop in enrollment across the district.

Anchorage has an enormous quantity of excess schools — and maintaining them is robbing resources from classrooms. Current projections are that the student population in five years in Anchorage School District brick-and-mortar schools will be 5,000 fewer students than 1978, when the district’s building footprint was at least 2.9 million square feet smaller than today. To visualize 2.9 million square feet, it’s more floor space than all current Anchorage School District high schools combined, plus six elementary schools.

Inlet View Elementary may be old by the standards of our very young city, built in 1957, with expansions in 1972 and 1985, but my granddaughters currently attend a very effective neighborhood elementary school in Portland that was last expanded in 1925. Well-maintained public buildings don’t “wear out.”

The White House was built in 1800. Replacing functional buildings because they’re “old” is a luxury we cannot currently afford. There’s plenty of school capacity downtown. Inlet View is surrounded by half a dozen campuses operating far below capacity. Downtown already has the Chugach Optional program and the renovated and expanded campus at Denali Elementary. A much more urgent concern than an expansion project in a favored neighborhood is addressing Anchorage’s $824 million deferred maintenance backlog.

Some have argued that Inlet View is overcrowded. By Alaska Department of Education and Early Development standards, the campus has the capacity for 257 students with a projected enrollment of 203 students or less, by the time the project could be completed.

For context, the very popular Winterberry Charter School has less than half the current floorspace of Inlet View, with a student population of 226 kids — and a waiting list to get in.

In 2012, school district changed its local Education Specification, which now puts Inlet View at a capacity of 170 students — without any changes to the building. Since the change, Inlet View has chosen to consistently exceed its new capacity limitation by allowing zone exemptions for dozens of students from outside the neighborhood. Adding insult to the proposal to override of the rejected Inlet View project, the dollars being considered for this project are funds allocated by the Legislature to aid in property tax relief.

For several years, bond debt reimbursement from the state was suspended and property taxpayers had to shoulder the full burden of bonds passed. In 2022, the Legislature allocated an amount equal to the extra burden taxpayers bore during the suspension of bond debt reimbursement. The Mat-Su Borough has already indicated that it will be giving their property taxpayers a one-mill tax rebate with its portion of the same legislative allocation, despite their growing student population.

Funding the rejected Inlet View expansion project, with money intended for taxpayers, while we’re closing other schools and continue to have an enormous maintenance backlog, is a very bad idea. And more importantly, every dollar misallocated on unnecessary capital projects is a dollar not available for intensive reading instruction, career and technology programs, language immersion, gifted and talented enrichment, sports programs, and a wide variety of classroom operations popular with parents and students.

There’s a process for major construction projects. That process involves consulting the voters who will be responsible for paying for the maintenance of the projects. If the voters feel they are being ignored or disrespected in that process, it may become very difficult to pass future bond measures needed to address the ongoing Anchorage School District facilities debacle.

Bob Griffin is a senior education research fellow for Alaska Policy Forum and a member of its board of directors. A retired U.S. Air Force fighter pilot and former chair of the Budget Advisory Commission for the Municipality of Anchorage and the Anchorage School District, he is a board member of the Alaska State Board of Education and Early Childhood Development.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Liberal mindset is that government prints money therefore it has an unlimited supply. Cost is not a concern and if you argue you’re racist and a selfish capitalist. With the exodus of students leaving public schools for private, charter, and homeschooling no new construction is needed.

    • When my daughter was in elementary school, a teacher with over 30 years of teaching under her belt kept asking me why I didn’t sign up my daughter for “free” lunches. I told her that I could provide for my daughter and didn’t expect taxpayers to pay for my daughter’s upkeep. She said, “Taxpayers don’t pay for the lunches. We tell the government how many students need free lunches, and they print the money. It doesn’t cost taxpayers anything”. Right then I understood why she was teaching 3rd grade. They were the only ones on the planet who could listen to her without their heads exploding. And yes, she lived with her parents.

  2. Inlet View needs to be reconstructed. To gain my support would be to right size the school for the neighborhood only and site on the north side to capture the sun. The current design is short sighted and excessive IMO.

  3. Nailed it on the head! With the decline in student achievement, oversized administration and poor curriculum, ASD has thumbed their noses at taxpayers for years. They even turned down FEMA money and instead went with bond packages because they didn’t want to put the effort into the application process.
    If they would focus more on vocational and home school education they may get some more students and improve education.
    Look at the MatSu for better ways to get educated. They aren’t perfect because the fallout from Anchorage is trickling into the valley, but they are leaner and more focused to help families than Anchortown.

  4. A snobby left-wing neighborhood demands a snobby, expensive new school; what’s new? Chugach School used to be the lawyers and judges’ private school back when I had a kid in school here out in more proletarian Susitna. These people want their private schools and they don’t want their babies to have to share space with the lower class and emotionally disturbed.

    • Spot on. Once upon a time I attended Inlet View school. I cannot afford to live in that part of town anymore. It is no surprise that a few hundred yards south of Inlet View is the similarly exalted West Anchorage High School which, it may be recalled, was proposed about ten years ago for renovation and expansion at a cost of several hundred million dollars. That plan was also rejected by voters. If Inlet View is no longer functional, close it down and distribute the students to more functional facilities. Time for the ASD to pursue “equity” right here, right now.

  5. Damn the voters’ majority of votes against this project, we, the School Board, know better and can spend your property tax relief money better than you could. Remember this decision when it comes time to vote these clowns out of the School Board.

  6. Good information, Bob.
    .
    Problem is the Anchorage School Board don’t care what you, or anyone outside Anchorage’s education industry thinks.
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    They don’t have to care, Bob! They’re accountable to no one and they know it.
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    No? Any idea why Anchorage’s education industry is allowed to remain nationally recognized as one of America’s worst performing and overpriced, but Anchorage School Board officials continue to be rewarded with re-election, and so much money that they can make rules about giving it only to union-controlled contractors? (mustreadalaska.com/anchorage-school-board-votes-for-construction-monopoly-by-labor-unions/)
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    Why should education officials fear accountability when Anchorage’s easily corruptible mail-in vote system virtually assures School Board officials’ job security, blank checks for bond money, and crucially, immunity from voters’ disapproval?
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    Sure and it’s a sad sign of the times, Bobbo, when “consulting the voters” means nothing more than padding construction “budgets” as much as the bloody beneficiaries think they can get away with.
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    No? Then how, Bob, under such an impenetrable education racket, such an easily corruptible election system, will it ever “become very difficult to pass future bond measures”?
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    Point is, Bob, is nothing’s likely to improve until Anchorage voters regain control of their election system.
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    What can Alaska Policy Forum do to help?

  7. the quality of a school building has nothing to do with the quality of education. For a good part of our existance, US children were in 1-room schools with multiple grades. Construction spending has nothing to do with education.
    Next difficult question, please.

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