Anchorage School District leaders say declining enrollment is driving plans to close multiple schools

The Anchorage School District said Tuesday that it plans to announce a “multi-year” school closure and consolidation plan late this fall, and said it continues to seek public input on those decisions.

District officials said the move to close schools is being driven by declining enrollment, not budget woes. During Tuesday’s school board work session, they repeatedly referred to their plans as “right-sizing” the district, describing declining birth rates and an exodus of young people from Anchorage over the last decade that’s left many schools under-enrolled and well below capacity.

Discussions on additional school closures in Anchorage have been ongoing since early in the school year, but district officials have not yet named any of the schools they are considering closing. During Tuesday’s meeting, Anchorage schools superintendent Jharrett Bryantt said “there are some serious cons that we need to fairly deliberate” before closing any neighborhood schools.

“Our schools represent the fabric of our communities,” Bryantt said.

Administrators said this week that they planned to collect additional community input before choosing which schools to close. A survey is expected to go out to families later this week.

Jim Anderson, the district’s chief operating officer, said ASD is changing its messaging on why closures are needed.

“Last time, we brought this up as part of the budget discussion, and I think that’s where it really went south,” he said.


“We need to ensure that the community is aware that we’re doing this not due to some sort of budget shortfall,” Bryantt added.

In fall 2022, the district recommended closing six neighborhood elementary schools, and Bryantt at the time cited “insufficient and unstable” state funding along with the dropping enrollment numbers. The announcement came just before a gubernatorial election, and sent shockwaves through the communities with schools slated for closure.

But after outcry from families, teachers and others in the school communities, the Anchorage School Board voted to close only one elementary school, Abbott Loop.

The need to close and consolidate schools is being driven by declining birth rates in Anchorage over the last decade that have led to fewer enrollments, particularly at the elementary level, and schools that are well below capacity, Anderson said Tuesday.

While there are nearly 6,000 fewer students attending Anchorage elementary schools now than there were in 2010, since then, just three elementary schools with a combined capacity of less than 1,000 have closed, Anderson said.

Consolidating schools can make academic instruction more efficient by decreasing the need for itinerant staff who must travel between schools, said Sven Gustafson, chief academic officer with the district.

Full-time teachers are able to spend more time with students and get to know them better, Gustafson said.

“Larger schools, more efficient use of our monies, and actually better services for our kids,” said Gustafson.

The district plans to announce in October or November which schools it proposes closing, and the Anchorage School Board would vote on whether to approve that plan in December, Anderson said.

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Anderson told board members that all schools were on the table for possible closures. He said that after announcing which schools would close, the district planned to stagger the closures over a three-year period to give parents time to plan. He added that the district had not yet settled on a number of schools or any particular schools to propose closing.

During the meeting, school board member Pat Higgins asked Anderson about the potential negative impacts of the proposed plan to close any schools and said he took issue with the term “right-sizing,” which he said wasn’t a perspective that all families involved might share.

“We know that our schools are, in many cases, the heart and soul of that small community,” Anderson responded. “You’re not going to take away the emotion of someone who bought a house so they could go to a specific school, if that school is the one that closes.”

“Those are negatives, Pat, and they always will be,” he said.

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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