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Schools Recommended for Closure - Letter to Families | February 2024

Date: Friday, February 16, 2024
Subject: FNSBSD Schools Recommended for Closure

 

Dear district families and staff,

We continue to face tough budget realities moving into next school year and school closure has again come forward as a way to sustainably reduce costs. The school board is considering the closure of two schools. District administration has put forward two schools recommended for closure and two additional schools for consideration.

The schools recommended for closure are Ben Eielson Jr/Sr High and Ticasuk Brown Elementary. The schools for consideration are Two Rivers School and Pearl Creek Elementary.

Why School Closure

The school district is facing a significant deficit of $29 million going into FY25. Closing a school, while challenging and tough on the community, saves the district a significant amount of money year after year. It means fewer buildings to maintain and reduced utility costs. With 2,000 fewer students than 10 years ago, consolidating schools helps us provide better educational services and keeps class sizes from increasing even more. It also assists with fewer overall vacancies throughout the district.

School Selection Considerations

We looked at several factors when considering schools for potential closure, including:

  • Condition of the Building - Age, recent investments, status of major systems such as HVAC, electrical, plumbing, communications, roof, pavement, windows, energy efficiency

  • School Utilization - How many students attend the school compared to the school’s total capacity.

  • Cost Savings - How much would be saved on utilities, deferred maintenance, staffing costs, etc, if the school were closed.

  • Educational Programming  - Are there currently limited educational offerings or services for students.

  • Neighborhood Impacts & Geographical Location - What would be the impact on the local neighborhood, transportation, and redistricting. How would nearby school capacity and population be impacted.

Why Ben Eielson Jr/Sr High

A small junior high of 200 students and high school of only 163 students as of October 2023, Ben Eielson is at 59% of its capacity. Ben Eielson has continually faced staffing challenges due to its unique location. It's also been forced to offer limited education offerings and student activities due to the decline in enrollment. If Ben Eielson were to close, students would transition to North Pole Middle and North Pole High. Current 5th graders at Anderson-Crawford Elementary would have the option to stay at Anderson-Crawford for 6th grade.

The FY25 cost savings of closing Ben Eielson Jr/Sr High would be over $2.3 million.

Why Ticasuk Brown Elementary

Building condition and geographical location were the largest factors driving the recommendation for closing Ticasuk Brown Elementary. North Pole Elementary schools have a large amount of unused capacity, and were not impacted by previous school closures. There is a large amount in deferred maintenance including the need for a new DDC system, fire panel, and water conditioning. There are also deferred maintenance issues with the parking lot erosion and water drainage. The building’s location between Fairbanks and North Pole would allow students to be shifted more centrally to North Pole Elementary and Midnight Sun Elementary and the students closer to the Ft. Wainwright Badger Gate would potentially attend Arctic Light Elementary.

The FY25 cost savings of closing Ticasuk Brown Elementary would be over $1.6 million.

Why Two Rivers School

Building condition and geographical location are both factors that have brought Two Rivers forward for consideration. Two Rivers has $10.10 million in deferred maintenance. This is both a very high per square foot and per student cost. The max student capacity for the building is 98 and there are currently 65 students enrolled (66% current capacity). Educational impacts of a small population spanning Kindergarten through 8th grade, means that more teachers cover two or three grade levels and staffing in a remote community can be difficult to find. Specialty positions, such as library, nurse, music, physical education and counselor are either part-time or shared with Salcha Elementary School, and have historically been difficult to fill in a stable, long term capacity.

The FY25 cost savings of closing Two Rivers School would be approximately $1.1 million.

Why Pearl Creek Elementary

Building condition and geographical location are both factors that have brought Pearl Creek Elementary forward for consideration. There is a large amount in deferred maintenance on the Pearl Creek building. Students would likely shift to University Park, Woodriver, and Anne Wien, which would help the utilization of those schools. Educational programming and hiring for specialized positions has become increasingly difficult across the district. Therefore, not necessarily specific to Pearl Creek Elementary alone, but any reduction to the number of sites the district is providing services at, makes it easier to staff and serve the students at the remaining schools.

The FY25 cost savings of closing Pearl Creek would be approximately $1.6 million.

Important Dates
The school board is tackling school closure and other FY25 budget topics at the following upcoming public meetings.

  • Monday, February 19 - Budget Work Session

  • Monday, February 26 - Budget Work Session & Public Hearing

  • Tuesday, February 27 - Budget Community Forum at Lathrop High at 6pm

  • Monday, March 4 - Budget Work Session & Public Hearing

  • Tuesday, March 5 - Regular School Board Meeting - Public Testimony

  • Monday, March 11 - Budget Community Forum at North Pole at 6pm

Moving Forward

What building statistics don’t capture is the long and rich history of our schools, it doesn’t show the great community of educators, students, parents, and community members that make our school communities what they are. I know amazing things happen in our building every day. It’s what makes closing a school so hard. I also know it’s not the building that makes the great things happen every day, it’s talented educators, enthusiastic students, and engaged families.

Advocating for Public Education

If you would like to help encourage the State to increase public education funding, you can do the following:

Sincerely,

Dr. Luke Meinert, FNSBSD Superintendent