All but the summer program of a Juneau-based, state-run correspondence school would be saved under a compromise offered Thursday by the House State Affairs Committee.
The committee, headed by Juneau Republican Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch, introduced and passed an altered version of Gov. Frank Murkowski's House Bill 174, which would have closed the Alyeska Central School on June 30.
The new proposal would eliminate Alyeska's summer school program - saving the state about $1.2 million annually - and allow the rest of the program to move into an existing school district or charter school.
The bill also would extend the closure date of Alyeska to June 1, 2004.
"It gives the parents, teachers and students the opportunity to work in Alyeska for the coming year and then find another program, set up a charter school or go to another existing program in an actual school district," Weyhrauch said.
The bill was not assigned to Weyhrauch's committee at first, but was given a committee referral at his request.
"I thought it was something that needed to be looked at from a State Affairs view because it has an important constituency statewide - it's a statewide issue," he said.
In March, Murkowski laid out a plan to close Alyeska, noting it would save money and eliminate duplication of other correspondence programs in the state.
"Today, there are at least a dozen school districts operating correspondence programs," Murkowski said in a March 5 address to the Legislature.
Those opposed to closing Alyeska argued it is the only accredited correspondence school in the state and provides more teacher support than other programs.
They also said shutting down the year-round program could be more expensive because Alaska allocates 25 percent more money to students attending brick-and-mortar schools than those in correspondence programs.
Alyeska serves about 640 full-time students and about 440 part-time students during the regular school year.
Some 3,450 students used the summer program last year, many who attend brick-and-mortar schools or other correspondence programs during the regular school year.
About 20 teachers and 18 teacher aide positions would be eliminated if Alyeska is shut down completely. It is uncertain how many positions would be cut if just the summer school program is eliminated.
Margaret MacKinnon, acting director for Alyeska Central School, said about 20 teachers from the Juneau School District are hired to teach summer classes at Alyeska. Those positions would be cut as well as possibly some of the full-time teaching staff, MacKinnon said.
She said the idea of attaching Alyeska to a local school district has been around since Murkowski's decision to cut the program.
She said correspondence schools have been contacting Alyeska since March with inquiries about assuming responsibility for Alyeska's students. MacKinnon would not name the schools interested in the program.
Weyhrauch said he has been in contact with the Juneau School District about taking over Alyeska but said the district so far has not expressed interest.
The House version of the bill might be the only chance to save the school. Sen. Gary Wilken, co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, supports maintaining Alyeska's year-round school but said he's waiting for the House to pass its bill before his committee looks at it.
"I haven't seen the bill, so I won't comment specifically, but I'm in favor of taking down the summer school program and keeping the school intact so we can have people step back and take a look about what we should do with this school," Wilken said.
Senate Bill 107, companion legislation to HB 174, awaits a hearing in Wilken's committee before it heads to the full Senate for consideration.
House Bill 174 now heads to the House Finance Committee.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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