KODIAK — The school in Karluk, which reopened this fall after a viral ad campaign offering free housing and all-expenses-paid living to families with children for moving to the remote Kodiak Island village, will close again after just a month in session due to the families’ departure.
The decision to close the Karluk school was unanimous at an emergency school board meeting on Tuesday.
“It’s a sad day when you have to close a school,” said Cyndy Mika, the Kodiak Island Borough School District superintendent. “And it’s not anything that I ever wanted to do in my tenure — it’s nothing that I want to ever repeat again. It weighs heavy on your heart when you have to close a school.”
Reopening the school was a huge effort for all the parties involved.
Karluk had just a few dozen year-round residents, with only two of them being school-age kids. The village advertised free living expenses for two families to move there over the summer. The state requires 10 students to be enrolled in order to receive funding.
The ad worked; two families with eight kids between them moved to Karluk in September, and the district’s board of education voted to reopen the facility.
But as of Monday, both of the new families had left Karluk.
Alicia Andrew, a Tribal Chief for the Tribal Council, said in an email Tuesday that it was a blow to the community.
“It’s so disappointing, we thought we picked the right families,” she wrote.
The Wilkinsons were one of the families chosen to fly to the village. When reached via social media, they said they were back in Kentucky but had no comment at this time. The other family could not be reached for comment.
Mika said the district will still support the kids still in Karluk, even though the school is closing.
“We’ll be transitioning those students and providing them education via our AK Teach homeschool and correspondence program,” she said.
She said part of that support will be to offer counseling as needed and provide some internet connection as well.
October is when the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development does a headcount of students for funding. But since the families left before the count was finished, Mika said it’s unlikely the district will be able to recoup the investment the district made to open the school.
“We didn’t make it through the count and that’s predominantly the reason why — that is the really, solely, the only reason why we are closing.”
Between renovating the school building so a teacher could live there and getting curriculum and tech supplies to the village, and now, getting those supplies back, the district is out about $80,000 in an already tight budget.
District staff are currently making plans to retrieve appliances like a refrigerator, a freezer and a Starlink satellite dish as well as student tech like iPads and computers. Mika said they will probably need three or four chartered Cessna Caravans to get everything back to Kodiak.
The district is currently working with the state to try to get prorated funding for serving the 10 students for the weeks they stayed in the village, but otherwise that money will come out of the district’s fund balance, or savings account.
While it didn’t work out, Mika said she still stands by her recommendation and the Board of Education’s decision to reopen the school in the first place.
“We knew it was in the best interest of the students to open the school as a learning site and I think we did the right thing,” she said. “It was a risk — it didn’t pay off. But we did our best while we had the school open.”
The representative for the Karluk Tribal Council said in an email they may look for other families to try again. If they do find new families, the school board would have to vote to open the school again, even if they had enough students again.
Legally, the district had to notify parents 10 days ahead of a school closing, so the building will officially close on Nov. 2, exactly one month after it opened.
Mika said the school district’s next steps will be to give the Karluk facility back to the borough.
This story originally appeared on KMXT and is republished here with permission.