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Interior Alaska village school will stay open -- with just 8 students

  • Author: Tegan Hanlon
  • Updated: September 30, 2016
  • Published December 15, 2015

A small Interior school will stay open with limited services this school year, even though enrollment dropped below the minimum required for state funding.

The Yukon Flats School Board voted Tuesday to keep Cruikshank School in Beaver open. Only eight students were enrolled this fall. To get full state funding, Alaska's public schools need at least 10 students enrolled during the count period, which spans 20 school days in October.

"We struggled with this," said Laurie Thomas, school board president. "No board wants to close a school ever."

The Yukon Flats School District is paying about $200,000 this semester to keep the Cruikshank School open. Without state money, it will have to pay about $190,000 next semester, she said.

Residents spoke out against the closure before the vote. Rhonda Pitka, first chief of the Beaver Village Council, said her 4-year-old daughter will be in kindergarten next fall. She wants her to stay in the village for her education.

"My only option would be to homeschool her or move, and I really don't want to move," Pitka said in a phone interview before the vote. "My work is in Beaver. That's what my job is, and it's not like I have time to homeschool."

About 65 people live in Beaver, a village on the Yukon River about 110 air miles north of Fairbanks. Pitka said closing the school would crush the village.

For years, the village has closely watched enrollment at the Cruikshank School, she said, fearing it would drop too low and lose state funding.

Pitka said she expects that the school will meet the 10 student minimum next school year. Another woman testified at the meeting that this school year she expects to enroll three more children who are coming to live with her. The board said it had submitted a letter to the state to see if it could do a recount of its students.

Board members entered into executive session Tuesday before resuming the public meeting to take a quick vote on the Cruikshank School. While the board voted to keep it open, it also voted to cut the school's language program, food services, the instructional aide and custodian.

"They cut pretty much everybody except the teacher," Pitka said.

Pitka said the village will work to get jobs for the four people whose jobs were cut. She said it will also work to get a grant to keep the Gwich'in language classes going.

School board members did not publicly announce Tuesday how much the district will save by cutting the positions.