Dave Donley: Proposed six-year plan for Anchorage includes building 3 new schools

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By DAVE DONLEY

State law requires Alaska school districts to have a six-year capital plan; that includes major maintenance projects such as new roofs, large remodeling projects and new schools.

The Anchorage School District administration reports a maintenance backlog of about $800 million. For years before the 2018 earthquake, the Anchorage School Board had a formal policy to maximize the coverage of new bond funds, by prioritizing needed remodeling and roof replacements, rather than building new replacement schools.  

School board members were told that policy needed to be repealed to do the needed earthquake repairs, and the board did so. 

It appears that wasn’t all that was really intended by that policy repeal.

A newly proposed Six Year Capital Plan proposes bonding to tear down three existing elementary schools and replace them with three new schools at a total cost of close to $100 million. The three schools are Inlet View, Wonder Park, and Tudor Elementary. The first of these is Inlet View and the School Board is deciding, at the November 16 meeting, if it is on the 2022 School Bond. 

Inlet View Elementary School

This comes at a time when over the past five years the ASD student population has dropped from about 50,000 to this year’s projected 42,800.    

Wonder Park is currently about 58 percent occupied and Tudor is at 70 percent occupancy. In 2020, Inlet View Elementary’s design costs was combined with the earthquake repair projects bond by a 4-3 Board vote. In the 1980-90s the District had proposed to close Inlet View. 

Inlet View absolutely needs at least a major remodel costing about $15-20 million but possibly more. The new school has a total price tag of over $30 million and seems to be growing.

I strongly support a major remodel project at Inlet View to address existing needs.  These needs include a new sprinkler system, a multipurpose room, relocation of the office to help secure the entrance, some increased capacity, and many other overdue upgrades.  

The school administration points out if every student in the area went to Inlet View, increased capacity would be needed even without out-of-area students. They argue that if universal pre-K education was implemented (at a cost of tens of millions just in the Anchorage area) the extra classroom space will be needed.

Prior to several years ago, district guidelines indicated Inlet View was essentially at capacity, but not overcrowded.  Then the guidelines were changed and pre-pandemic it measured at 120 per cent capacity.  But that is not the full story.  

About 70 of the about 240 students at Inlet View come from outside that school’s boundary area. The administration has allowed this despite it creating what is now measured as overcrowding at Inlet View.  

I do not support students currently at Inlet View having to go to other schools, but the district should stop allowing new outside area students to go there. Without these additional students Inlet View is not over capacity.

There are five schools that border on Inlet View’s boundaries with lower occupancy: Turnagain 69%, Willow Crest 82%, North Star 67%, Denali 78%, and Government Hill 86%.  

Also, before just recently Central (less than a mile from Inlet View) was only 70% occupied. Obviously, some very basic phased-in (to not impact current students) boundary adjustments would eliminate over-crowding at Inlet View.

It is important to note that the experts explain that sprinkler systems in schools are not a student safety requirement; they are to reduce potential property damage.  All occupied schools are safe, even without sprinkler systems, or they would not have students in them.  

Turnagain Elementary is of similar age as Inlet View and was very successfully remodeled just a few years ago. A similar major remodel at Inlet View is estimated to cost about $15-20 million. Major remodels are projected to last about 20-30 years while new schools can last 50 years.  

The experts say it is more cost effective to tear down Inlet View and build a new school.  Probably true; but spending twice as much for a larger school than needed has immediate lost opportunity costs unless unlimited funds are available. Remember all these school building costs are now 100 percent on the Anchorage taxpayer as the State no longer reimburses new school construction debt.  Many other schools in Anchorage badly need remodels, new roofs, and security upgrades. Those projects will be delayed to pay for a new Inlet View school.

Inlet View is a great school, and its parents are a great example of how parents can be effective advocates for their students. Although the Inlet View Community Council, and it seems most of the neighborhood residents, support the total new school plan, some do not. Quite a few have told the School Board they believe the 2020 bond language’s use of the word “site” meant any new school would be located where the current school is now and not the south end of the current school property as ASD is proposing.  

Among other concerns they also question the new school being two stories and the soil conditions at the new proposed southern site.  Concern has also been raised by the District’s Capital Improvement Advisory Committee who declined to adopt a recommendation citing earthquake risk reports: “The reports depict the Inlet View location within the Bootlegger Cove Special Landslide Areas, and thus at risk in a large seismic event.”

The other proposed new schools at Wonder Park, and Tudor are currently significantly under capacity (58% and 70%) and are mostly surrounded by schools currently under 80 percent capacity (and even as low as 57%).  Clearly in addition to saving close to $50 million in property tax debt with remodels instead of new schools; other reasonable cost saving options are available, but they may be painful.

A word about school roofs: Even the best commercial roofs only last up to 30 years. The district has over 90 schools and buildings. That means, no matter how well maintained, in any given two-year cycle about six roofs will need replaced; they are costly.  The district aggressively maintains existing roofs and is using new technology to make roofs last longer for less cost. But still, every school bond will need a certain number of roof projects on it.

A word about elementary school security; while violent threats to middle and high schools can come from inside, almost all threats to elementary students and staff originate outside the school. Many of our elementary schools where not designed to meet an external threat. The administrative offices are not located where they can control the front doors. The district has been bonding to remodel elementary schools all over town to relocate offices, increase door security, and upgrade video monitoring. Up to $30 million is needed to complete this effort and $16 million was proposed to be on the 2022 bond to continue these projects. I strongly support prioritizing these projects to protect our most vulnerable students.

Finally, the complex matter of bonded debt retirement; when it comes to debt retirement an old dollar does not equal a new dollar.  For years now the district has been retiring more debt than it is adding with new bonds. But the real value of this decrease to Anchorage taxpayers is being greatly reduced by the loss of State bond reimbursement funding.  The district is retiring bonds that had up to 50 percent state subsidy with new bonds that are 100 percent paid for by Anchorage taxpayers.  Accordingly, the cost of even the reduced total debt is going up every year as more of the State reimbursed bonds are paid off.  

Now the question Anchorage taxpayers face is: Do we want to build three new elementary schools?

This communication is from Dave Donley as an individual and not on behalf of any elected, appointed, or military position he may hold including the Anchorage School District and School Board.

17 COMMENTS

  1. I am curious about the 70 non-area students reporting to Inlet View. Is this a form of school choice at ASD? Wouldn’t this infer that Inlet View has some of the best teachers in the district? Or perhaps it is just location based; as most parents have jobs that are downtown and choosing Inlet View is just most convienent?

  2. I wonder what the proposed cost would be within building three purely ‘utilitarian’ modeled schools, that is, buildings that are designed, and constructed, within the most basic of needed aspects so as to what schools should be constructed to do.

    Teach students.

    No fancy artwork, no ‘bling’, no fancy architecture.

    Simply a building that provides a safe, environmentally sound area with the needed technological access so as to address the basic needs so as to educate the students that attend said schools within a classical manner, that is, a manner that shall promote a structure of basic learning, not social engineering, or indoctrination, so as to advance unto the next level of learning from elementary unto middle school…

    A ‘School’, that is, a learning environment, does not, within itself, need bells and whistles. It only requires a safe and solid foundation in which to actually perform the act of instruction, so as to prepare the current class of students to progress unto the next level of ‘learning’, and therein lies the rub…

    Included within the cost of constructing a new school are numerous and expensive additions unto the basic design of a utilitarian construct, without actually providing any additional benefit so as to the ‘education’ of the students within that school, but only the cost of said construction of the school itself…why is this acceptable?

    One can make a school as attractive and magnificent as taxpayers money can buy, but honestly, are the students of that palace better educated, or learned, than those of less decorated buildings?

    I think not.

    So what is the benefit to the students to reside within a palace, versus those students that reside within a utilitarian building, and yet receive the same instruction, and within Alaska, both are very, very poor….

    Bottom line, I suppose, is it is not the building that the student receives instruction and learning within…

    It is the lack of instruction and learning within said building that matters….

    Who would have thought?

    • You have a cabal of architects, engineers, and union contractors who feed off this teat. It is a world of Davis-Bacon wages and extraordinary profit margins. You’d best be careful getting between these people and the money to which they think they’re entitled.

  3. Truly, Donley is the only individual with intelligence on the School Board. The rest are woke zombies trying to outdo each other with progressive BS.

  4. Is there a relationship between the age/condition of a school building and academic achievement? Or is this a way to fool parents and property taxpayers into thinking if we build new schools results will automatically improve?

  5. I think Carrol Como should be brought in for developing these outrageously expensive schools. Maybe hire Banksy to paint the walls for the kids.

  6. There is nothing whatsoever on the Anchorage horizon that even hints that long-term debt should be considered. Whatever is done should be done with cash! Anchorage has more cash and more income today than it will have 5 years from now and 10 years from now. Anchorage will continue to lose population, particularly from within that cohort that wants to work and will work.

  7. No we do not need to build 3 new schools. At a time when declining revenues from oil are a certainty and with no Federal funding, we need to cinch the belts. My econ Professor stated unequivocally – needs vs. wants. It’s time for the Anchorage School District to perform better for the tax dollars spent. 40% of students read at grade level. It’s unacceptable. The ASD needs to produce results not cry for more money.

  8. 1) Bonding for maintenance is ridiculous. This should be a regular budget item and have a dedicated fund. Bonding should be kept to a minimum for large projects like new additions or partial re-builds.

    2) Our school population is declining, with proper boundary management, our existing schools should be able to handle all students. There is absolutely no need to build more schools. Instead refurbish and keep the ones we have.

  9. We don’t need any more schools. What we need is teachers who teach and administrators who can carry a full load instead of hiring more overhead, and spending on schools we don’t need. Inlet View is fine as is. My son attended and he was out of the area, so I question whether that school underserves its neighborhood. Much cheaper to move the boundaries and accommodate kids at schools that are plenty big. There is no excuse for this kind of spending when we can’t even get our kids to graduate.

  10. We do not need new schools. Sell the three not needed and use the funds for repairs to the needed schools.
    Looks like we need some rules and to enforce boundaries for attendance.
    Less kids, less schools
    Common sense.

  11. Well. My thoughts are, the democrats are just giving money away to the illegall imagrants. We have Haitians up in a really nice neiborhood on the south side at the gov. Expense. We have Afghani folks staying at alyeska hotel and other places. Here and there
    and that’s great. There people. They want better lives. That’s great.
    More than halve our homeless in this city are from villages who gave them the boot for various reasons. And these folks run the streets with the assembly s blessing, certainly not the mayor’s.
    (Let’s help those that want help)
    (Let’s bill the native corps for there part in this issue they help create)
    They say its OK to be intoxicated in public. Its ok to lay around the streets soaked in there own feces.
    The way the assembly is running this town is a Disgrace to our community, and our nation , it is a no brainer. People’ are leaving this town by the hundreds and I’ve been here sense 1969, we’re in the process of relocating our buisness to the valley and with no real plans to do work in this city any longer. This place is not what it used to be, on that note. Um. This district is going to loose many more students. There’s nothing stable or normal going on in this city, there’s no future for our kids here, If this city continues its current path..
    Pray the courts step up to stop this assembly, or this town will be no diffrent from San Francisco or Seattle or any towns being ran into the ground by these power hungry and Corrupt. (9 assembly members here in Anchorage.)
    Anybody have doubts about what I’m saying? Just start watching the assembly meetings on you tube. Before they vote to end the public to
    be able ro listen in and comment, it’s coming..

  12. Now! There is nothing wrong with those schools that a routine maintenance can’t fix. Besides… I like the old looking American schools. There are school kids around the world, today, meeting for school in old renovated train cars and one room house shacks! Hahaha.

    Although caterina has a good idea demolish the buildings and don’t replace them. The Democrats can turn the space into three community garden parks. America is turning into such an impoverish nation that oneday that’s all we will have left are community gardens and community art and craft markets for the poor to sell their trinkets and grown food. Hahaha

  13. Um… I know I’m gonna take some knocks for this, and I’m about as fiscally conservative as they come, but the school board may be doing the right thing. Elementary schools can’t be built in a weekend, planners have to look far out, and at birth rates.

    Recent press reports indicate that the beginnings of a Millennial Baby Boom is occurring, with the sales (traditionally not something that varies a whole lot year-to-year) of at-home pregnancy tests jumping over 50% 2020-2021.

    This is a six-year plan for the district, and if there are a whole lot of babies on the way, then in about 5-6 years, there will need to be schools ready for them.

    • Other than the lower class and emotionally disturbed, Millennials are too lazy and stupid to reproduce in any significant numbers. We don’t need to build anything for them.

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