Only seven students are enrolled for school in the community of Pelican; the school had 14 students last year. The state requires schools to have at least 10 students enrolled to receive full funding.
For now, Pelican is somewhat protected under the state’s Hold Harmless provision. Since it’s only the first year Pelican has not met the enrollment requirement, the state will cut its funding by 25 percent. School Board President Ken Wolff says the city will absorb the extra cost this year. But if enrollment is still too low next year, the state will cut 50 percent of Pelican’s funding. A second year with too few students and 75 percent will be cut. All funding is cut by the fourth year. Wolff says Pelican won’t make it that long. If there aren’t enough students for the 2014-15 school year, Wolff said they’d likely close the school.
“We’ve thought about advertising like Tenakee did in the past, but the way our economy is out here, it’s down and out,” Wolff said. “We just have nothing for people to move here for other than fishing.“
Like the community of Tenakee, which is also dealing with low student enrollment, Pelican has few jobs and almost no available housing. Wolff said the city is looking for ways to make up for the funding gap. One proposal is to subdivide city-owned property and put it up for sale. The city foreclosed on the Pelican Seafoods plant in 2010. Wolff said the community is hopeful someone might see the value in the old plant, but its ammonia systems aren’t functioning, the freezers are headed downhill and the whole backside of the building needs to be replaced.
“It’s in pretty bad shape but I think if somebody was really serious about buying fish, it would be great place for them to jump into,” Wolff said.
Pelican students have other options if the school were to close: homeschooling, distance courses and even boarding school are all possibilities, but they’re not ideal options, Wolff said.
“Instead of taking steps forward and making it possible for our families to stay together and live together, we’re taking a big step backwards,” Wolff said. “We’re either going to have to move or send our kids away. We’d be sending our kids to boarding schools like the old days.”
The community is looking for ways to reinvigorate itself, Wolff said. The possibility of the school closing and news of other struggling schools has sparked a conversation about future of Pelican.
“The whole of Southeast is just deteriorating right before our eyes,” Wolff said. “But when things happen here it’s everyone’s problem. It doesn’t just resolve itself.”
• Contact reporter Jennifer Canfield at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.