Falling enrollment threatens rural schools

Districts see funding cuts when enrollment falls below 10 kids

Posted: Sunday, June 28, 2009

FAIRBANKS - The superintendents of two interior Alaska school districts say six rural schools are in danger of closing next year because of low enrollment.

Districts see major state funding cuts when enrollment falls below 10 students at a school.

The schools near the 10-student threshold are in Central, Stevens Village, Takotna, Beaver, Anvik and Shageluk.

Superintendent Joe Banghart of the Iditarod School district said Shageluk, Takotna and Anvik project 12 to 14 students.

"In reality, at any year they could possibly drop below that," Banghart said.

The Yukon Flats School District faces a similar challenge.

"We have three of our schools that are right on the borderline each year or have been recently - Stevens Village, Beaver and Far North School at Central," said Woody Woodford, Yukon Flats superintendent.

"They appear to be just slightly above that 10-student minimum, but we have some concerns - we generally don't know until right at count time ... which is usually the last week in September and runs for a four-week period," Woodford said.

Both superintendents said long-range planning is difficult when districts are worried about enrollment numbers from year to year.

Since 2001, the Iditarod School District has lost 65 percent of its students.

"A large majority are moving out because of rising energy costs and the economy," Banghart said. "But we don't want to give up and close our doors."

The superintendents said it's difficult to pinpoint a reason for low enrollment, except in Stevens Village. Spring flooding forced many families to evacuate.

"The last thing we, or any school district, wants to do is close a school," Woodford said. "But it would be very difficult to continue to keep a school open without funding from the state and federal government."

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