Survey backs shift to college classes, building repurposing | Alaska News

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A majority of residents support adding Fairbanks North Star sixth graders to the middle school, based on a school district survey. A small majority also supports the repurposing of a school building to house alternative education programs.

The findings are based on a survey conducted by the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District’s School Effectiveness Task Force. The task force surveyed 2,572 parents, students, employees and community members about building consolidation and repurposing.

The district is leaning toward consolidating sixth grade into the college years in part to reduce a $17 million budget shortfall. District decisions in the next district would save at least $3 million.

Survey results

When asked to move to a middle school model in grades 6-8, 63% agreed or strongly agreed. Another 24.22% did not support the decision while just under 12% were neutral.

About 59% of respondents were in favor of repurposing a school building, while 22.5% disagreed. Another 18.4% were on the fence or had no opinion.

Superintendent Karen Melin told the school board on Monday that the district does not yet know where students will attend school if the buildings are closed.

“We can’t really answer that question until we’ve made a decision on which direction we’re going,” Melin said. “It’s a bit nebulous right now.”

The district plans to close Joy and Nordale Elementary Schools and consolidate Anderson and Crawford Elementary Schools at Eielson Air Force Base.

People were also asked to choose from four options.

The closure of the Anderson and Joy school sites, the redirection of Nordale for alternative education and BEST Home School programs, and the merger of sixth grade into middle school came out on top. Closing Anderson, Joy, and Nordale and moving to the new college model ranked second. Leaving tier structures unchanged but closing Anderson and Joy and reallocating Randy Smith Middle School to house third-tier alternative and home-schooling programs. An option to make districtwide cuts and increase class sizes came last.

Answer some questions

One question that was raised by parents was whether the district could accommodate an increase in enrollment. Andy DeGraw, operations manager, said the district hasn’t faced this issue in at least 15 years.

“We can’t necessarily plan for that when we’re talking about facility utilization,” DeGraw said. “We anticipated for many years this wait in the Eielson/North Pole area due to the F-35 bed, but it never happened.”

Kate LaPlaunt, assistant superintendent of elementary schools, said some spaces would open up in elementary schools if the district adopted a middle school model for grades 6-8.

Teacher placement was another concern, Melin said. Human resources executive director Ivory McDaniel-Ilgenfritz said affected teachers would be notified a week after the board makes the decision “that they will be involuntarily transferred”, but without a specific location.

“This will allow teachers to apply for vacancies throughout the district that may be of interest to them,” McDaniel said.

Relocation of programs

Melin said relocating the programs to a repurposed building serves two purposes: it centralizes alternative and home-based learning programs in one location and reduces rental costs.

The district administration supports the use of Nordale as a redeveloped building.

The district currently pays rent for its Career Education Center and BRIDGE program, which serves young adults with developmental disabilities. The Career Education Program, which serves high school juniors and seniors, is housed at 724 27th Ave.; The BRIDGE program is located on 12th Avenue.

“The converted building would still be used for education, but not in the traditional brick-and-mortar way,” Melin said.

Luke Meinert, assistant superintendent of secondary education, said a centralized location would benefit students in the BEST Homeschool and e-learning program and could potentially attract more people to the homeschool option.

Meinert added that the district initially believed that a large number of CEC students were located in the South Cushman Street neighborhood, justifying the program’s current location. This later turned out to be incorrect, he said.

DeGraw said the district would eventually save $389,000 a year on rent, though the BRIDGE program still has two years left on its lease.

Some board members were concerned about moving the career education program.

Board Vice-Chair April Smith said its current location is ideal and located to other resources, based on community feedback.

“They’ve indicated there are other resources in the area,” Smith said, citing the Fairbanks Community Food Bank, Rescue Mission and Parent Resource Center. “While it’s not a central location for all students, it helps kids meet other needs when they come to town for school.”

Next steps

DeGraw pointed out that the district’s upcoming budget depends on the choice made by the council.

“Decisions made will have a significant impact on our ability to balance our budget,” DeGraw said.

He added that the board will be asked to vote on a final option at a meeting on February 1. A presentation of the budget and a vote will take place later in the month.

Melin said it was essential to make a decision to bring clarity to teachers and staff “as they begin their next school year”.

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