Anchorage schools can manage facilities better, but at what cost to programs?

I am writing today regarding the recent facilities audit conducted for the Anchorage School District. Since 2012, ASD has engaged the Council of Great City Schools to conduct various management audits for our district. This is good business practice, as the council performs audits for many districts across the country, and has done so for many decades. They bring a critical eye and recommend best practices based on their extensive experience.

Last year our board unanimously decided to conduct a management audit on our facilities department since our real estate portfolio is quite extensive and its sensible governance to focus time and resources on a large impact area. The audit was organized last fall, conducted in December, and the report was released a few days ago.

Yes, in the report we have found areas where the district can improve. Yes, I believe the district is honest and sincere in its efforts to implement many of the recommendations suggested in the audit.

What are areas the public can weigh in on? Is the public willing to allow the district to capture excess capacity and potentially consolidate schools? This could mean moving all sixth graders to middle school and then closing some neighborhood elementary schools and redrawing school boundaries. With a decrease in student enrollment in our district, many elementary schools have varying levels of excess capacity that when consolidated can translate to cost savings due to operating and maintaining fewer buildings. Plus, moving sixth graders into middle school can increase access to courses like world language, instrumental music and other electives for our 11-year-olds.

We tested the waters on this concept last October and there wasn't much support from the public. But if the state freezes the bond debt reimbursement rate, perhaps people might be interested in dusting off those conversations and trying again to develop a capital plan that could include school closures.

To add another fly in the ointment, there is a capital versus operations tradeoff when consolidating schools. Upon analysis, under the current School Size Factor Formula, we discovered that ASD receives less revenue from the state when smaller elementary schools are consolidated into larger schools (where ASD receives less money per student). But on the other hand, there could be savings to the local taxpayers, to the state debt reimbursement fund, and to the state education fund through decreased formula payments. The net effect? Capital costs go down, but then so does operating revenue, meaning there could be less money for programs and staff.

Is the public willing to remodel schools to have less amenities and more modest designs? That could mean forgoing a lunch room, or a dedicated music room, or other rooms for pullouts and special education services. For the bonds presented next Tuesday, the bond package voted by the board back in September 2014 is midrange, based on a comparison and analysis of three components: Building Life Extension, Intermediate Renewal, and Expanded Renewal.


It's always about choices. Generally if you pay for one thing, you give up paying for something else. In a district that is all about special interest groups, someone will always have their nose out of joint.

I urge everyone to learn more about these topics by attending our bimonthly Audit and Budget Committee meetings that occur on the first and third Monday each month, at noon, in room 150 in the ASD Education Center (corner of Northern Lights and Boniface.) In addition, our district provides many opportunities for public testimony, including during the early meeting which starts at 4 p.m., and again at the late meeting which starts at 6:30pm, also on the first and third Monday of each month.

Thank you for being involved with our school district and school board.

Natasha von Imhof is a member of the Anchorage School Board.

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