David Boyle: Colorado shows how to close schools

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By DAVID BOYLE

Closing schools due to a lack of students can be very difficult for parents, students, teachers, and the community. But it is necessary to ensure that most of our dollars go into the classroom — where learning takes place.

The Anchorage School District has tried to close neighborhood elementary schools in the past year, but has faced strong opposition from parents.

Here is the Anchorage School District’s problem in a nutshell.

The total “program capacity” for elementary schools today would hold 26,432 students.

The actual number of students in 2022 was 19,484, a nearly 7,000 student excess capacity.  

There is even a further downward trend in the future until the projected number of elementary students is 16,826 in 2027, nearly 10,000 students fewer than the district’s capacity.

How does the Anchorage School District close its excess school infrastructure and ensure that its resources go to the classrooms?

A great place to start is to look at school districts who have effectively done that.  

In Colorado, Jefferson County (Jeffco) public schools has successfully closed 16 elementary schools and 4 more are to close next year.   

Superintendent Tracy Dorland took her job seriously and made the decision to move forward. The Jeffco School District is larger than the Anchorage School District.  Jeffco has 66,500 students with a building capacity of 88,000. Jeffco has 166 schools while Anchorage has 84 schools.

Superintendent Dorland faced many of the same push back from parents that the Anchorage School District faced.  Some parents felt that the school was the center of their community and they even had gone to the same school that their children were currently enrolled in.

Many of these parents have an emotional connection to their schools and don’t want to lose that connection regardless of the impact on the Anchorage School District budget.

Some Jeffco parents threatened to remove their kids from the schools. Anchorage parents threatened the same last year.  

The closing of a neighborhood school is an emotional event for many parents and students. They feel as if they have lost a “friend.” But military parents go through this every three to four years when they get transferred to a new state or even go overseas.

The younger elementary children may be the most affected emotionally, but they are also the most resilient and will quickly bounce back with new friends, new teachers, and other staff.  

Closing a school requires an “All hands on deck” effort by the school districts. The staffs of the closed schools and the receiving schools must participate in helping parents and students with the transition.

The transition to the new schools should be as seamless as possible. The schools that are chosen to be closed must be shown to be surplus and the entire budget savings must be disclosed to the public.

Alaska school districts should not gather input from the community on school closures and then back off due to emotional appeals from parents.

This is what the Anchorage School District did in 2022 when it attempted to close 10 elementary schools. The district cannot keep kicking the can down the road as it did with its budget.

Perhaps the Alaska school boards could show a little chutzpah and actually do the work we are paying them to do.  Enrollment is down; consolidation and school closures will save money.  Kids will survive.  

The Jeffco School District closure plan is at this link.

David Boyle is the education writer for Must Read Alaska. 

10 COMMENTS

  1. If we would quit giving them money when they cry then maybe they would start citing the waste.
    If they want a dollar then give it to them only if they cut a dollar from the admin side.

  2. Why is this difficult? Shrink space to equibrium. Close schools. Save money. No-brainer. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    School board should be recalled if they are unwilling or unable to do their job. Seems like a majority are trying to fool us.

  3. do not vote for any ASD schools bonds until they become fiscally responsible. do not rebuild inlet view school (saves as least 35 million) then close some schools – eliminate the administration and retain the teachers.

  4. Abolish compulsory schooling.
    Captive markets and audiences are only ever exploited…which is always the point.

  5. Except that the state funding formula gives you more money to have more half full schools instead of less full schools.

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