By JODI TAYLOR
We all want our kids to have the best chance of success in life. Our public schools play a vital role in that outcome.
Unfortunately, we are hobbling our kids’ academic opportunities by allocating far too many of our nation-leading education dollars to facilities. We continue to see the emphasis placed on facilities, not on educational outcomes.
I first became aware of this a few years ago when the current Clark Middle School building was constructed. The per-square-foot cost of the new middle school exceeded the per-square-foot cost of the Anchorage VA Medical Center, which was built around the same time. How is that possible? At that time, the justification was that the fancy school facility was needed in order to improve student outcomes. Here we are, a dozen years later, still waiting for the promised improved educational outcomes.
Perhaps these actions would make sense if our student population was rapidly growing. But it’s not; Anchorage School District enrollment peaked 20 years ago at about 50,000 thousand students. Fall 2021 enrollment for was below 40,000 (when accounting for charter school enrollment). The last time the district had fewer than 40,000 kids in its school buildings was 39 years ago, in 1983. Current demographic projections indicate this trend will continue for some time. In fact, the latest district capital improvement plan expects enrollment will drop by another 5,000 students by 2027.
With the rapid drop in student enrollment in the last 20 years, you would think there would be a corresponding drop in facilities. However, you would be wrong. The opposite has unexplainably happened. Since 1983, the last time we had so few students, the total size of ASD facilities has grown by 49.2 percent, a whopping 2.6 million square feet of extra space. Using a conservative number of $25 a square foot a year for heat, light, and maintenance, the additional space costs $65 million a year. When the extra cost of principal and interest are added in for this added footprint, the total additional cost to the residents of Anchorage is around $95 million a year.
Why are Anchorage residents footing a $95 million dollar bill for unneeded space, when student educational outcomes desperately need improvement? Alaska is ranked dead last in the U.S. in national reading scores for both low-income and upper/middle-income students. And before you think that the rest of the state is dragging ASD scores down, guess again; ASD is ranked 22nd in the state in language arts out of 54 school districts.
Imagine what could happen if that $95 million dollars in facilities costs (over $2,000 per student or a $34,000 raise per classroom teacher with an average class size of 17 students per teacher) was redirected every year to improve student outcomes by retaining and attracting top teaching talent.
The school district’s Proposition 1 bond mailer includes the tagline “All of Our Children.” It’s time for the Anchorage School District to focus on the actual children, by spending more money in the classroom and not on fancy spacious buildings.
Join me in voting No on Proposition 1.
1- Enrollment by District by Grade 2021-22.xlsx (live.com)
Microsoft Word – 1Front Page 1011.doc (asdk12.org)
Jodi Taylor and her husband are the parents of six children; she’s a business owner and finds joy in serving to create an environment where families can thrive.
agree. instead of building new schools we should be closing a couple
NO on 1!!!! The school district will be fine, don’t forget the fema money they got for earthquake damage along with a massive amount of federal and state dollars spent on ASD
And the school boards union only contracts should be challenged because as a city property tax payer I can’t work on a school district construction project unless I am union employed. Taxation without representation.
Sounds like a plea for more homeschooling and school vouchers.
Any Alaska taxpayer favoring more public debt should have their head examined. Contractors are booked up for years in advance. Alaska has full employment; everyone who wants a job can find one very easily. Federal dollars coming to the state and to municipal governments is helping to cause wage and price inflation. Governments need to pay cash for everything right now. Selling bonds for construction will bid up construction costs even more. Committing our children and grandchildren to pay debt service for 20 to 30 years when government spending is already over-heating the economy makes no sense whatsoever. Issuance costs and interest payments make no sense either when governments are rolling in dough. Working aged people are moving from Alaska much faster than they are moving here, and they are the people who have children to use the schools. We don’t need more classrooms and we cannot afford more expensive classrooms.
Vote Yes on constitutional convention and create education vouchers that the students can take to any school, public or private. That should be the only money any school receives.
Natural Alaskan, more to come on that topic. You’ll be pleasantly surprised what’s available right now!
Unless “what’s available right now” is unrestricted vouchers it will be ineffective and unfair. Parents need the option of taking their children’s public education entitlement funds to the private school market. This cannot happen fast enough to save our culture from ultimately collapsing.
Natural Alaskan, brilliant comment. Absolutely brilliant….. because it is so simple and so true.
This is the best K12 op-ed I’ve read. The plant doesn’t matter! It’s the content! My mother attended a one-room schoolhouse. A dear friend taught in a Quonset house with a barrel stove. By all accounts, the outcomes were vastly superior to ASD.
Great piece. Well said.
But wait! Where will they put all the new gender-neutral bathrooms?
And for that matter, a big NO on all bonds would be appreciated by those of us that can’t afford another property tax increase.
Amen on that, Trig. With the price of oil, for all I understand, the State will be awash in money. I’m concerned on how it will spend it. NO ON ALL BONDS. I hope a lot of leftists read this article, Jodi.
Rule of thumb. School bond = NO! At least until the kids can pass a basic test.
Sorry Jodi, you’re missing the mark completely. As long as the education bureaucracy is controlled by the government and unions it will never “focus on kids.” The entire solution is described in one word: vouchers.
The person that missed the mark completely is the one that thinks private school is a blanket solution when in fact that isn’t a solution at all and isn’t the topic of this article. The best first step toward correction is recognizing that Ms. Taylor has an xlnt point.
I agree; No on school bonds until the primary issue is addressed and resolved. We have fancy blogs with fancy upkeep costs and bottom of the barrel results.
…. Says someone obviously involved, either directly or indirectly, whichever, in the public school bureaucracy.
Obvious to whom, Wayne?
My offspring are adult professionals, I have no children in school and I don’t derive any income from ASD nor do any of my family derive an income from any school in any manner.
What can we learn from those around us willing to make strong and unfounded assertions? The correct answer is absolutely nothing… which is roughly the value of your ‘vouchers are the only answer’ perspective.
I apologize for inferring your status incorrectly. However, there is no other logical explanation why anyone would disagree with giving parents the choice in procuring their children’s education with the monetary resources to which they are entitled.
No on all bonds ALWAYS.
Learn a budget, ASD.
WELL SAID! Finally, someone with some fiscal responsibility speaks out loud for people to hear! I am so sick of the bonds, and the failing education that goes along with it…. lower test scores and graduation rates…. ASD is completely irresponsible with their budgets, going further and further into debt and further away from an actual good education given to our students. If I may take it a step further… my property value the last two years has been raised $35,000 a year for the purpose of my property taxes…. let’s also add to that EVERY proposition for money on the Anchorage voting ballots seems to get voted YES and I am soon going to be taxed out of my home. Wait, I almost forgot to mention the current $59 million dollar debt for our homeless shelter at the Sullivan that is looking more and more like it will be handed to the homeowners to pay off on our property taxes…… Alaska is losing her “charm”, and I am running out of income to pay for the state’s lack of budgeting -or good decision making….. Education is important, but we are getting people spending frivolously on buildings and NOT on educating our kids, the numbers don’t lie.
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