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Board votes to close Tenakee Springs school

Posted: August 7, 2013 - 4:30pm  |  Updated: August 7, 2013 - 11:08pm
The Tenakee school is a relatively large facility. It has three classrooms, a commercial-grade kitchen and a library.  Jennifer Canfield | Juneau Empire File
Jennifer Canfield | Juneau Empire File
The Tenakee school is a relatively large facility. It has three classrooms, a commercial-grade kitchen and a library.

The school in Tenakee Springs will not open for the 2013-14 school year. The Chatham School District board voted Tuesday 4-1 to close the school for one year. The board will reconsider opening the school next spring.

Superintendent Dr. Scott Butterfield said the meeting — which was held by video teleconference — was difficult.

“The Tenakee community members showed up and did advocate for their school,” Butterfield said. “In the end, I think the board didn’t see how we could keep the school on such a bare bones budget from the unrestricted reserve fund.”

Only three students were enrolled to attend the school; two more were signed up through a foreign-exchange program. The state cuts and eventually halts funding for schools that don’t have at least 10 students enrolled.

Butterfield said he’s now working on the procedural aspects of closing the school. All equipment, computers, furniture and books will stay; all employees will be laid off, with the exception of the teacher who is tenured with the district. Everything in the school will be unplugged, drained or stored and heating in the building will be kept at a minimum.

Despite the temporary closure, the Tenakee Advisory School Board is still looking for families to move to Tenakee. Board member Chris Mannino said some housing has recently become available and two city jobs and the postmaster job need to be filled.

“So, now we just keep trying. We just stay focused on the jobs we do have available in our community and the housing we do have available,” Mannino said. “It’s not, of course, what we wanted nor what we were hoping for and it’s definitely going to be a lot harder to attract families with a closed school. We will do our best to inform families that with 10 students the school will reopen.”

The closure means that renovations on the teacher housing units will not be completed. Teacher Anne Connelly owns a home in town and so residents have used the teacher’s housing as a way to attract families. A family currently occupies one unit and the other unit is unfinished.

The Chatham School District has another school with enrollment that hovers over the state’s 10-student minimum. The school in Klukwan typically has anywhere from 11 to 15 students and only three of those students actually live in Klukwan, while the rest are bused in from Haines. Butterfield said that while Klukwan isn’t an immediate concern, the district does pay extra attention to the school’s enrollment.

“It hasn’t been a problem for the last few years but if we weren’t able to transport kids in, (Klukwan would) be in the same predicament that Tenakee finds itself,” Butterfield said.

The district has created “Intent to Enroll” forms, which will be distributed next spring to parents in Tenakee and Klukwan. The district will use those forms to plan ahead for the 2014-15 school year.

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

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