The Anchorage School Board on Tuesday allocated $26 million toward the cost of rebuilding Inlet View Elementary in the South Addition neighborhood, plus an additional $19 million for other school building improvements across the district.
The decision to fund the rebuild of Inlet View, one of the district’s oldest buildings, has sparked intense debate. Yearslong efforts to rebuild the school have stalled over disagreements over design plans and other issues. Last spring, a $111 million Anchorage School District bond that included $31 million to pay for construction of a new school failed.
School board members favored the school improvements funding package in a 5-1 vote. Member Dave Donley was the only member to vote against the package after he cited concerns with the district’s projected budget gap for the upcoming school year. He advocated for saving the money instead.
At the meeting, several parents of current, past and soon-to-be Inlet View students testified in support of the funds, describing the project as an investment in their children’s futures. They said the project was too long in coming, and classified opposition as misguided and not in students’ best interests.
“Failure to fund these projects will only add to their costs at a later date, and leave students and staff learning and working in failing buildings,” said Hannah Brewster, parent of a first grader at Inlet View.
“We failed the Inlet View community with a failure to act. And I would hate for the other schools included in this package to suffer the same fate. Roofs won’t fix themselves, secure entries do not materialize. They cost money, and it is your responsibility to allocate that money where it is needed,” she said.
Others, including some South Addition residents who live nearby, were opposed to setting aside the funds for the rebuild and the other projects. They said they wanted Inlet View to be remodeled instead of rebuilt, citing potential short-term savings for the district. A few said it didn’t seem fair for so much money to be spent on a single school, given discussions in the past year of closing other district schools for good.
“There’s many amazing communities that all deserve support, and all deserve funding,” said David Hansen, who said in his testimony that he was in favor of a remodel of the school, not a rebuild. “Why would you spend more money when you didn’t have to?”
The funds allocated for Inlet View are left over from a one-time school bond debt reimbursement package the Alaska Legislature passed in 2022. FEMA reimbursement funds were also included in the total funding allocation for some of the other projects, which include library structure and roof repairs, an updated playground at Creekside Park Elementary, and a rebuild of Ursa Major Elementary at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
Prior to the vote, some school board members acknowledged how contentious the issue had become, but most said they believed the funding would address much-needed repairs and rebuilds across the district.
“It does seem like that it’s gotten personal for a lot of people, and I think that’s very unfortunate,” said board member Andy Holleman, who voted with the majority in favor of the funding package.
Donley said he was in favor of funds being allocated for Ursa Major but not Inlet View.
“I’m very concerned about class sizes in the coming future, and that this money being available as a shock absorber to help fill in the projected gaps we’re going to be facing is going to be very, very valuable about one year from now,” he said.
Holleman said it was his understanding that a remodel would be initially less expensive for the district than a rebuild, but not in the long term. He also said the district’s financial situation is not “dire,” and that most years, the district faces a budget deficit and nearly always figures it out.
“I hesitate to not do what I think is the right thing because of an immediate funding crisis,” he said.
“I think we need to continue to focus on projects which bring value to taxpayers when we’re allocating these capital dollars,” said school board member Carl Jacobs. “I think this is a memorandum which addresses a number of different projects, and impacts positively thousands of families in our district.”
That $26 million will not be enough to fully cover the cost of the Inlet View rebuild, which is estimated at over $34 million, according to Margo Bellamy, Anchorage School Board president.
The remaining money will need to come from next year’s school bond package, she said.
“It’s not going to build a school, but it’s a path toward building the school,” Bellamy said. “This is one step closer to what we know these kids need.”