The Anchorage School Board on Tuesday evening voted to spend most of a $96 million school bond debt reimbursement package on urgent capital and safety improvements at various schools.
The board did not, however, vote on where to spend a $37 million chunk of those funds, which advocates and several testifiers Tuesday evening said should be used to rebuild Inlet View Elementary School in South Addition.
The roughly $96 million in funds came from the Alaska Legislature, which for years has not reimbursed communities for their school bond debt. But this year, the Legislature approved the one-time reimbursement, which the school board was tasked with deciding how to spend.
The money comes at a moment when the district is also facing a budget shortfall of roughly $68 million during the next fiscal year, as officials and board members warn of potentially painful cuts and closures that loom ahead.
Among the roughly $58.4 million allocated Tuesday, board members opted to spend around $9.5 million on capital projects, $7.3 million on security enhancements at seven elementary schools, and $38 million in urgent capital improvements at schools with leaky roofs and failing boilers.
Funds that would have gone toward rebuilding Inlet View, one of the district’s oldest buildings, were part of this year’s failed school bond. Supporters of the school’s rebuild have since advocated that the district use some of the one-time funds from the Legislature to rebuild the school.
The meeting Tuesday was jampacked, spilling into the rest of the district’s Education Center as members of the public watched a livestream of the board proceedings from the hallway. Residents were there to express support for the district’s language immersion programs, as officials outline costs associated with various programs and begin to consider potential program cuts and changes to help balance its budget. Others, including parents of students and neighbors of the school, outlined the need for a new Inlet View building, urging the board to take action on the funds Tuesday.
The effort to rebuild the school became mired in issues last year as some neighbors strongly opposed the redesign plan, which would have been funded with the failed 2022 school bond, and said their concerns about it were ignored.
The school’s principal, Arthur Sosa, said the neighborhood school, established in 1959, has a rich tradition of parent involvement and academic rigor, and encouraged the board to invest in the school. The school became an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme school last year, the first in the state. The school has 235 students, 55% white and 44% students of color, Sosa said.
Mary Geddes, who said she’s been a neighbor of the school for 30 years and isn’t currently a parent of students there, asked the board to use the remaining funds to rebuild Inlet View in the current fiscal year.
“There is no time like the present for rebuilding this wholly derelict building,” Geddes said. “And Inlet View is not just the heart of our community, it is a driver of our economic stability and growth. If we wait, costs will only increase.”
Clyde Carey, another Inlet View neighbor with children at the school, also asked the board to put the $37 million toward Inlet View’s replacement, noting the district had already invested money into its redesign and studies surrounding the project. He said the current school is old, requiring a lot of maintenance, and is not energy efficient.
“Having a modern and safe school in every neighborhood is very important for young families like myself,” Carey said.
Prior to the vote, Corey Aist, teacher and president of the Anchorage Education Association, the city’s teachers union, said he supported Inlet View getting a replacement, but urged the board to hold off on deciding how to use $37 million until budget officials could provide additional details about potential school closures at the board’s October 18 meeting.
“You have a really hard decision ahead of you,” Aist said. “Inlet View deserves to be replaced. The question is, are we going to close schools to do that? How many schools? Are we gonna cut sports activities? Are we gonna cut staffing to do it?”
Board member Kelly Lessens introduced an amendment to spend the remaining $37 million on rebuilding Inlet View, but the board ultimately decided to wait until its Dec. 5 meeting to decide on where to spend it.