School board seeks answers about Alyeska

Correspondence school has one year to be taken over or face shutdown

Posted: Wednesday, August 06, 2003

The Juneau School Board said Tuesday it wants some questions answered before it considers incorporating the state correspondence program Alyeska Central School as a charter school.

Alyeska, the only state-run correspondence school, was given one year beginning in July to arrange for the program to be taken over by a school district or shut down. Last school year, the Juneau-based program had an enrollment of about 1,100 students.

Charter schools are independent staff- or parent-run schools that operate within school districts using public funds. They must abide by the district's labor contracts but can hire their own teachers, set their own curriculum and choose their own teaching methods. Juneau already has one such operation, the Juneau Community Charter School, among the 19 operating in the state.

Gov. Frank Murkowski called on lawmakers earlier this year to discontinue the program, noting that the services provided by Alyeska duplicate other programs run by various school districts across the state. Murkowski said cutting the program would save the state about $1.2 million.

The Juneau School District is one of about 10 districts across the state considering incorporating Alyeska into their program, according to Harry Gamble, a spokesman for the state Department of Education.

Gamble said the department is pleased Juneau is considering taking over Alyeska, noting the district "certainly offers a quality program."

He said the Department of Education is formulating a process by which school districts interested in taking over Alyeska would submit proposals to the state.

Although the particulars of the process have not been worked out yet, Gamble said Education Commissioner Roger Sampson could appoint a committee to review the proposals. The committee then would make a recommendation to Sampson who would choose which district would assume the program.

But Juneau School Board members said Tuesday they want to be sure that Alyeska's Academic Policy Committee, which applied for the Juneau charter, had the legal standing to do so. The application also didn't provide financial information. The board asked district administrators to look into those issues before its next meeting, on Aug. 19. The board tentatively scheduled a work session for Aug. 20 to talk about the Alyeska proposal.

"I think many of us are leaning favorably toward this," said School Board member Alan Schorr. "At the same time, we should view it in the context of what's best for Juneau students."

Gamble said the department sent out letters to the state's 53 school districts earlier this year to determine which ones might be interested in taking over the program.

About 10 districts showed some level of interest, Gamble said. He noted Craig, Klawock, Wrangell and Kenai have expressed significant interest in Alyeska.

Linda Sanders, a teacher at Alyeska, said the school is hoping to fill some of the gaps left by budget cuts in the Juneau School District such as advanced-placement courses.

"Also, we have a special-ed person on staff that could hopefully help people that have special needs, either extended learning or disabled learners," she said.

"We are hoping that we can bring our school, our warehouse, pretty much everything, intact into the school district and operate self-sufficiently as we have at no additional cost to the Juneau School District," she said.

She said if another school district does choose to take on Alyeska as a charter school, then Alyeska would form an Academic Policy Committee comprised of a student representative, teachers and support staff.

The committee would determine the rules of governance, create bylaws for operation of the school and lay out a budget.

If Juneau does choose to take on Alyeska as a charter school, then it has to be approved by the state Department of Education and the Alaska Board of Education.

Sanders said the transition in closing down Alyeska's summer program and finding a school district has been difficult. Uncertainty about the future of the program and reviews by the state has put enrollment of students behind schedule for fall classes.

"Normally when we send out our enrollment packets for the new year to other districts and to our existing students we do this back in May," she said. "We were not able to get those out until July. It's just slower than what we anticipated.

"(Parents') fear is that if the staff breaks away and the school breaks apart and goes to another district, that's going to hinder the continued success of the program."

Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at Eric Fry contributed to this report.

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