On the heels of news of potential school closures, Anchorage School District officials said this week they recommended cutting and consolidating programs as they try to manage a large budget deficit next year.
Last month, the district recommended closing six district elementary schools as a way to cut costs, but officials say they also need to make various changes and cuts to programs like language immersion and a gifted student program to fill a gap of nearly $68 million.
In a business session on Tuesday, district officials recommended ending language immersion in eighth grade instead of twelfth, in favor of advanced placement and international baccalaureate courses for ninth and tenth graders. .
“If money wasn’t an issue, I don’t think we would be making these changes,” Johnson said. “But money is an issue, so it forces us to make tough choices.”
If students also need graduate-level courses, then the district would consider college-level dual-credit language course options, potentially partnering with a local college like the University of Alaska at Anchorage, said Kersten Johnson, director of secondary education for the district. Cultural trips and exchange programs would still be offered, and students would still receive an immersion graduation cord if they completed the program through eighth grade.
When students leave elementary immersion programs, they speak and understand languages well, but there are gaps in their vocabulary and grammar, which is why the secondary immersion program was developed, said Brandon Locke , director of the district’s world language and immersion programs.
The district is considered a national leader in language immersion, Locke said during a Tuesday business session. About 8,000 students participate in the district’s language immersion programs, according to its website.
“What would be the point of, say, starting kindergarten in French next year, knowing that it will end in a few years? So I think that’s automatically going to cause enrollment issues in our current elementary-level programs,” Locke said.
The district also recommended capping three immersion programs in elementary schools, instead of expanding them to middle schools. According to the recommendations, they would stop Chinese immersion at Scenic Park in fifth grade, and French immersion at O’Malley Elementary and Yup’ik immersion at College Gate would stop in sixth grade.
[Anchorage School District to hold community town halls at schools recommended for closure]
District Chief Financial Officer Jim Anderson said if the district’s financial situation changes in future years, officials may add more tiers.
Parents and students involved in the school district’s immersion programs have already shown up at school board meetings this year to voice concerns about the cuts or changes.
“All current efforts and progress will be largely wasted if children are not allowed to complete the program,” Mark Kobylinski, parent of a language immersion student, wrote in public testimony at a meeting. of the school board in October. “Proficiency in a foreign language only develops fully when (a child) approaches the end of the high school curriculum.”
Another recommendation put forward by the district on Tuesday was to modify the current model of a gifted student program called IGNITE, potentially moving instruction to an online course through Canvas, though officials said they were still working on options. The highly gifted programs, located at Rogers Park Elementary, Romig Middle School and West High School, would continue unchanged, Anderson said.
Anchorage school district officials also recommended consolidating the ACT program, a special education program for adult students ages 18 to 21 at five locations in the district. In their proposal, the program would be moved to one location, which would save the district on rental and transportation costs. Officials said they were still looking for a specific location.
“It would be more efficient, it would save money, and ultimately we would provide more opportunities for children,” Anderson said in an interview.
The school district has yet to officially recommend additional cuts to the school board, but has presented the board with various expenses across the district and will likely recommend several more cuts over the weeks.
Public servants must pass a balanced budget in February and somehow make up for the $68 million shortfall. During the presentations, officials also discussed the move from sixth grade to middle school, administrative cuts and changes to district athletic programs, among other things.
What could happen to closed elementary schools
Officials also presented their plan for repurposing the six elementary schools that have been recommended for closure.
At Birchwood ABC, Eagle Academy, a charter school, could be a new tenant. Another district charter school, Highland Academy, as well as PAIDEIA, the district’s statewide correspondence school, would transfer to Klatt Elementary.
In Nunaka Valley, district officials recommended the construction of a new entity, which they called a pre-kindergarten academy. They recommended the same for Northwood Elementary. Officials also said the Alaska Native Cultural Charter School, which has been housed in a wing of East High School, could potentially move to Wonder Park Elementary alongside the STEM charter school, STREAM Academy.
The district has no plans to move any programs to Abbott Loop Elementary, and officials said the district will work with the municipality to decide what to do with the building.
“We have some work to do with these two schools to see if this is acceptable,” district chief financial officer Jim Anderson said in a Wednesday interview.
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