Anchorage School District proposes a budget with program cuts, bigger classes and nearly 100 fewer staff positions

The Anchorage School District is proposing cutting the IGNITE elementary school program for gifted students, eliminating dozens of teacher positions and increasing class sizes for older students beginning next school year.

The cuts are meant to offset a major budget shortfall — this year estimated at nearly $100 million — and are outlined in a preliminary $621 million budget released over the weekend by the district administration.

The budget is set to be discussed by the Anchorage School Board at its meeting Tuesday. The board will vote on the final budget at its Feb. 20 meeting, which gives community members limited public opportunities to testify for or against any of the cuts.

The proposed trims include: eliminating nearly 100 staff positions, including 36 full-time teachers as a result of an increase to the pupil-teacher ratio; increasing class sizes for all students in the fourth grade and older; axing the IGNITE program; increasing activity and rental fees; reducing summer school options; cutting back on school supplies purchases; and spending down nearly all of the district’s rainy-day savings account.

IGNITE — which stands for Including Gifted Needs in Today’s Education — is a popular pull-out program for higher-performing students in the second through the sixth grade. The district has in previous years proposed cutting IGNITE, only to restore funding after hours of public testimony in opposition to cutting it.

Asked about the proposed staff reductions Andy Ratliff, the district’s chief financial officer, said, “I don’t anticipate any layoffs, it will be more though attrition.”

He said the district usually sees several hundred staff retirements each year, many of which will go unfilled. The district is also currently struggling to hire enough teachers and staff to fill more than 400 vacancies.


For weeks, members of the administration have warned that the nearly $100 million budget deficit they face this year, amid years of flat state funding, would mean painful cuts like the ones being proposed.

Board members have expressed grave concerns about the potential impacts the cuts could have on students, teachers and families, and said that increased funding at the state level would be needed to avoid them.

“It’s death by a thousand cuts,” said board member Kelly Lessens in reference to the budget cuts.

In a Monday interview, she expressed particular concern about the proposed increase to the pupil-teacher-ratio, which translates to fewer teachers and higher class sizes.

The newly proposed student-teacher ratio is the highest the district has seen in more than two decades, Lessens said.

“I think that the class sizes are going to become untenable for teaching,” Lessens said.

Cory Aist, president of the Anchorage Education Association, the union that represents the district’s teachers, called class sizes “already untenable.”

He said he has spoken to teachers at almost every school that are at or near capacity, who “physically cannot have another desk in some of those classrooms.”

He named class sizes as the metric with the single largest impact on student success, and said the continued cuts to public education is taking a toll on educators.

“I’m getting a sense of dread from teachers who don’t know what to do to facilitate their students’ learning in an environment where they continue to cut and not fund education,” said Aist.

Aist said increasing class sizes “gives teachers more reasons to leave our state and leave our school district,” adding that the union has seen an unprecedented numbers of educators resigning or retiring over the last several years.

The budget also includes depleting $71 million of the district’s fund balance, a savings account meant to be used in case of emergencies like an earthquake, board members have said.

That account has a relatively high balance this year largely due to the high number of unfilled staff positions, they said.

Spending down the district’s savings account leaves just $6 million in savings, Lessens said, describing that action as a risk.

“The urgency for sensible school funding cannot be overstated,” district superintendent Jharrett Bryantt wrote in an introductory message in the budget, again calling on the Alaska Legislature to approve a permanent increase to the state’s per-pupil funding formula, called the Base Student Allocation, or BSA.

The BSA hasn’t significantly increased since 2017, and has been far outpaced by inflation.

The Legislature returned to session last month with education funding as an early focus — but it failed to override the governor’s veto of $87 million in one-time education funding.


Alaska House Republicans then advanced a contentious education package with a $77 million permanent boost to school funding — far short of the $350 million annual increase education advocates have asked for. The package has stalled without support from a majority of legislators.

For information about providing public testimony on the Anchorage School District budget, visit

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Annie Berman

Annie Berman is a reporter covering health care, education and general assignments for the Anchorage Daily News. She previously reported for Mission Local and KQED in San Francisco before joining ADN in 2020. Contact her at