A Kodiak Island Borough school is closing and two more may fall below the enrollment required for state funding as enrollment numbers in the district continue to fall.
The KIB School District Board of Education on Monday approved a closure plan for Danger Bay School, which serves families at the Danger Bay logging camp on Afognak Island.
The school district may also see a loss in state funding for Karluk and Port Lions Schools, depending on the outcome of state enrollment counts that begin next week.
The state does not provide funding for schools that fall below 10 students.
School districts can use local funding to keep schools open at a cost of about $300,000 per school.
The closure at Danger Bay comes after just six students from three families enrolled for the current school year.
It is not the first time the camp’s school has faced closure. According to Kodiak Daily Mirror reports, the school previously closed in 2006. It reopened in 2008, only to be closed again in 2013. Most recently, the school reopened in the 2015-2016 school year.
“It’s very difficult to lose a school and we may be looking at that in our future, so I think we’re going to be very careful about this,” said KIBSD Superintendent Larry LeDoux. “There were tears in parents’ eyes when we went through this process. … We’re going to be working with communities to find a way to make sure their kids are taken care of.”
Under the closure plan, Danger Bay School will be designated as a homeschool satellite district office.
The teacher serving Danger Bay School was transferred to Port Lions School as of Sept. 25. The district will provide a full-time aide to assist Danger Bay families in homeschool instruction.
The AKTEACH homeschooling program will oversee the transition to homeschooling and provide continued monitoring. E-rate voice, video and data communications services will continue, and the school’s two high school students will use distance education to complete courses.
The logging camp will pay heat and electric costs at the school building and make it available to parents for use in homeschooling their children, LeDoux said. The closure plan still requires approval from the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.
There are no plans to close schools in Port Lions or Karluk this year. However, the district may be forced to scrutinize schools with low enrollment numbers next year, depending on the district’s total budget and a number of other factors, LeDoux told the Kodiak Daily Mirror.
“We’re doing everything possible to work with communities to make sure that the buildings stay open, because we don’t want to do any of this,” he said.
Declining enrollment numbers and the associated loss of state funding are likely to lead to additional budget cuts in the current school year, according to LeDoux.
Although the fiscal year for Alaska school districts begins on July 1, the state does not conduct enrollment counts until October, when school is in session. Therefore, districts must make enrollment predictions as budgets are being developed in the spring and summer.
“It’s somewhat difficult to understand, but we really don’t know what revenue we’re going to get until about Nov. 1, so on July 1 we started spending money that we really didn’t know we were going to have,” LeDoux explained to board members on Monday.
School is now in session and administrators now believe actual enrollment numbers are likely to fall below preliminary predictions. LeDoux warned school board members that the district may need to cut an additional $1.6 million from its current budget, which would bring the total amount of cuts to $3.5 million compared to last year.
The district had already budgeted for a $900,000 cut in funding from the borough and an additional $1 million cut to make up for use of the fund balance during the previous fiscal year.
“Almost every category (of expense) was tapped, if you will, to make that reduction,” LeDoux said.
The loss of teaching and other personnel positions, supplies, and equipment has already impacted students, according to LeDoux.
“It is safe to say that if we don’t receive increased funding next year from the borough, from the state, these cuts are going to really hurt and I think they will change the nature of our district in ways that we’re not going to be happy with,” he said.
The falling enrollment numbers are part of a longer trend for the district.
Borough-wide, student enrollment fell by 30 students in the 2016-2017 school year compared to the previous year. Over the last decade, borough student enrollment had fallen by 276 students at the time of last year’s counts, according to information from the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.
LeDoux said administrators are doing site visits at rural schools to communicate with stakeholders and get feedback on the best way to answer challenges.
School board President Bob Foy recommended that the district look into why student enrollment numbers are on the decline, including whether the decline is linked to the health of the fishing industry, U.S. Coast Guard personnel levels or community housing costs.
Snoderly can be reached at (907) 512-2624. Follow her on Twitter, @KDMjoann