Fairbanks borough school district begins discussion of potential school closures

Published: Dec. 6, 2021 at 4:53 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Due to a $17 million shortfall, the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District has begun discussing the potential closure of schools in the district.

According to Karen Melin, chief school administrator of the FNSB School District, the budgetary problems stem from a few factors.

“The current state is that we do have a hole, a significant hole in our general fund budget that needs to be addressed,” Melin explained. “There’s several contributing factors. A drop in enrollment... there’s a hold harmless clause that the state has that we’ve been taking advantage of for the last couple of years, and each year you have a step down - so we’re having that step down again. Then there was some loss that came with the assessed value of property taxes for the borough. When the assessed values go up, the state contribution goes down. It’s kind of an odd relationship, but that’s what it is. So we’ve lost some money on that front as well.”

The closure of certain facilities comes with not just budgetary reasoning, but also due to an ineffective use of some of the schools.

“One of the options that we’re looking at is more effectively using our facilities,” Melin elaborated. “and that’s where the school closure conversation came in with the board... the fact that when you look at our capacity across the district when it comes to buildings, it looks like we’re funding buildings because several of our buildings are at very low capacities. So that’s one of the ways that we’re looking to address that is to become a lot more efficient and effective in how we use our buildings.”

“That’s not the only driver to the school closures, but because when you have not very many kids spread out in all these different buildings, then it’s difficult to staff those buildings.” Melin continued. “So we have some, buildings that don’t have a counselor, they don’t have a nurse, they don’t have a P.E. teacher, whereas if we had fewer buildings, we could fully staff them and better support our students.”

There are two options the school district is currently exploring for the closures according to Melin.

“One option has Anderson and Crawford being consolidated, Joy Elementary closing, Nordale Elementary closing, and moving our sixth grade students into the middle school. So the three middle schools would remain open, 6th graders would move, and then we would move to a 6-8 model similar to what North Pole has now. All of our schools would be 6-8 then, and then [we’d] close those three elementary schools. The other option would be to consolidate Anderson and Crawford, close Joy, and then close Randy Smith and move all of the seventh and eighth graders to Tanana and Ryan.”

The hope is that in the long run, the closures will be beneficial for students as the consolidated resources can make for a better environment for them.

“It’s important for folks to know that they can be a part of the process,” Melin commented. “No decisions have been made yet. The decisions that are being explored and considered, while the timeline is driven by the budget... it’s also good for kids, for the services that we provide families and students. In fact I think that the budget has taken us to a place that is good to be - and that’s better services, more options, and better use of facilities. So we’re funding students first and not buildings first.”

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