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Compass: Anchorage school bonds are a solid investment

On April 2nd, Anchorage voters go to the polls to vote on a $54.8 million school bond package for construction, design and building life extension projects for 27 schools in the Anchorage School District. The ASD rated proposed projects on the Facility Condition Index (FCI) and Educational Adequacy (EA) to determine which proposals to include in the bond. Prudent citizens will recognize that the funds requested to maintain and update our school facilities are good and necessary investments for our students.

My personal reasons for voting for the bond are two small schools whose students have been waiting for the requested renovations for years: Girdwood K-8 and Aurora Elementary.

I am familiar with the Girdwood K-8 School, having served as their school psychologist for three years. This facility, built in 1981 and added onto in 1984, was designed for 169 students. Now 185 pupils attend and the District projects continued growth for Girdwood. The classrooms are small by ASD standards and full to the gills. The primary rooms, at 650 square feet, are 350 square feet smaller that the size called for in the Anchorage School District's educational specifications. The kindergarten class was moved to the school's library space due to overcrowding. Itinerant, ELL and speech services are delivered in storage rooms.

Facilities for middle schoolers are sparse at Girdwood K-8. The gym is undersized, there are no locker rooms or working showers for students, and the team offerings are limited to cross-country running, cross-country skiing and track and field. The middle school students study algebra and geometry in the music and art rooms. Sixth grade math is taught on the stage.

The Education Adequacy Index, an ASD measurement of a school structure's ability to meet the needs of its educational program, shows that Girdwood K-8 is three times more deficient than any other ASD school in providing an adequate learning environment. It is past time to provide Girdwood students with a facility comparable to, and equitable with, those enjoyed by Anchorage students.

I recently visited Aurora Elementary to talk with the principal, Debra Washington, about how a gym would enhance the educational experience of her 383 students. Aurora, built in 1959, is located on Joint Base Elmendorf -Richardson (JBER) and serves children of our Air Force personnel. Aurora is one of the last schools in the ASD without a separate gym. Students have physical education class in the multipurpose room. Since the same space serves as the cafeteria, it is not available for PE for two hours each day.

With careful scheduling it is possible to meet district physical education standards, however, special performances, guest speakers, and classroom activities requiring a large open area are limited due to lack of space. When lousy weather keeps children inside for recess, they must stay in their classrooms.

The children of our deployed military deserve to have as nice a school and as much access to enriching experiences and physical education as any other student in the ASD.

I think it is time to provide Aurora and Girdwood students with facilities comparable to those enjoyed by most Anchorage children. The cost of the school bond, after 60-70 percent reimbursement from the Legislature, will be $4.85 per $100,000 of assessed property valuation -- about the cost of a latte. I am willing to forgo a few cups of my favorite beverage for the sake of the kids in Girdwood and at Aurora Elementary. Please join me in voting "Yes" on the school bond on April 2.

Chris Tower Zafren is a retired Anchorage school psychologist and member of the School Bonds Yes! committee.



By CHRIS TOWER ZAFREN