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Tenakee school on the chopping block

School board will decide fate Aug. 6

Posted: August 1, 2013 - 7:48pm  |  Updated: August 2, 2013 - 12:07am

The school in Tenakee has only three students enrolled and two more signed up through a foreign exchange program. It’s not enough to meet the state’s 10-student minimum for full funding. The community was given an extra month to boost its enrollment, but no additional students were recruited by the July 31 deadline.

When enrollment falls below 10 students, the school can continue to receive funding under the state’s Hold Harmless provision. Funding is cut by 25 percent for the first year of low enrollment, 50 percent the second year and 75 percent the third year. No funding is available for a school that has low enrollment for more than three years.

If Tenakee were to remain open for the 2013-14 school year, Chatham School District would have to fund the gap. Superintendent Dr. Scott Butterfield said that’s not a likely scenario.

“Our preliminary figures show that we would be in a pretty tough situation if we tried to keep the school open,” Butterfield said. “I don’t think we can financially do it.”

Butterfield said that the state allows the district to allocate no more 10 percent of its yearly budget to an unrestricted fund; that fund can’t fall below 5 percent of the budget. If the fund is overspent one year, the district would have to replenish it in the following year’s budget. Money to cover Tenakee would have to come from this fund. This year’s unrestricted fund is about $400,000 and $120,000 of that money is already committed to putting a new roof on the teacher’s housing in Angoon. That leaves about $80,000, which is not enough to fund the Tenakee school even if it were to take advantage of the Hold Harmless provision.

“That’s our only wiggle room,” Butterfield said. “You never know what that unrestricted money might be needed for.”

The Chatham School Board meets Aug. 6 to decide whether to keep the school open, despite financial constraints, or to close it.

Contact reporter Jennifer Canfield at 523-2279 or at jennifer.n.canfield@juneauempire.com.

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