Education

Anchorage School District says language immersion is now ‘off the table’ for budget cuts, while recommending other cuts and changes

Anchorage School Board meeting

After recommending cuts to language immersion programs earlier this month, the Anchorage School District on Tuesday evening announced it was no longer considering those cuts as it continues to deal with a major budget deficit.

The $68 million deficit has meant a host of recommended cuts and school closures that the school board must consider as it attempts to balance its budget this winter.

Deputy superintendent Mark Stock at a Tuesday work session said the district would like to explore modifications and recruit more students to the immersion program, but that the cuts were “off the table.”

At a jam-packed school board meeting on Tuesday night, more than 100 people had signed up to testify. Attendees filled the meeting room, while more people spilled into the halls of the district’s Education Center, where the meeting was held.

Immersion students gave impassioned testimony in Russian, Japanese, Yup’ik, Mandarin and Spanish to board members as they outlined the importance of the programs districtwide.

Superintendent Jharrett Bryantt opened the meeting by telling attendees that the district “will no longer recommend proposing cuts to our immersion program.”

[In East Anchorage, families and neighbors reckon with the potential closure of a beloved elementary school]

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Initially, district officials recommended the board consider stopping immersion programs at eighth grade and cutting the high school component. Instead, Bryantt said the programs would continue on as planned and the district would seek to make them less costly going forward.

Board member Kelly Lessens told the crowd that while immersion cuts were no longer being considered, a fiscal cliff remains, and that students had the capacity to be advocates going forward.

Board president Margo Bellamy echoed that sentiment and said, “every letter that you sent to us every word that you were planning or are planning to say tonight, send it to our legislators.”

The district is still considering cuts to certain programs and shifting around other aspects of the school day, including potentially moving sixth grade to middle school while eliminating sixth grade band and orchestra; outsourcing hockey, gymnastics and swimming; and eliminating a gifted students program called IGNITE.

Additionally, district officials last month recommended closing six elementary schools around the district, which they say are under capacity and could be combined with nearby schools.

All but one of the six schools are Title I schools. That means they serve a large number of students who come from lower-income families.

According to updated estimates from the district, their closures would save the district a total of $4.1 million.

Here is a breakdown of how much closing each school would save the district each year for the next two years:

• Abbott Loop: $696,500 - $983,155, which would not receive any new programs. Instead, the district would work with the municipality on what to do with the property.

• Birchwood ABC: $883,754, if it gets repurposed to a charter school.

• Klatt: $841,321 if it gets repurposed to a charter school.

• Nunaka Valley: $245,783, which, under the recommendations, would become a preschool academy.

• Northwood: $262,913 which, under the recommendations, would become a preschool academy.

• Wonder Park: $888,370, if repurposed to a charter school.

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Morgan Krakow

Morgan Krakow is a general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. She is a 2019 graduate of the University of Oregon and spent the summer of 2019 as a reporting intern on the general assignment desk of The Washington Post. Contact her at mkrakow@adn.com.

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