ANCHORAGE - Student shortages at two schools in the eastern Aleutians could lead to cuts in school district funds.
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When fall classes began last week, the school at Akutan had eight students. The school at False Pass had four. The communities each have fewer than 80 year-round residents.
The Aleutians East Borough has created a plan to bail out the all-grades schools this year. But the two schools might close next year if enrollment doesn't average 10 students in October when the state counts students, said Carl Warner, business manager for the Aleutians East Borough school district.
It's dilemma faced each year by some of Alaska's smallest schools. So new teachers with lots of children may find schools competing for them. And large families might be recruited by residents of enrollment-challenged villages.
Small schools are vital to village life and closing one could lead to people moving somewhere else. Relatives and friends may follow, shrinking the population even more.
The school in Rampart in Alaska's Interior closed in 2000, when there were 45 residents. Today there 16 residents.
About three of the roughly 500 schools in the state shut down each year because enrollment falls too low, according to Eddy Jeans, the state's director of school finance. But it rarely occurs twice in the same district, as is possible in the Aleutians East Borough.
"This is an extreme case," Jeans said.
The Aleutians East Borough district runs six schools and could lose at least $400,000 if the False Pass and Akutan schools don't meet enrollment requirements, he said.
People are leaving the Aleutians region because there is not enough money in fishing and because they want the educational and social opportunities offered in larger communities, residents say.
Ruth Kudrin, a lifelong Akutan resident, said she made plans to move to Anchorage after hearing the school might close. She said she wants her daughter to attend a school with more classmates and courses.
The Aleutians East Borough has extra money after a good year collecting fish taxes and it will pay to keep the schools open this year if enrollment is too low, said Administrator Bob Juettner.
"It's a commitment to the small communities of the Aleutians East," he said. "They have a right to have schools just like other communities."
Alaska didn't have a minimum enrollment requirement for many years, Jeans said. In the mid-1990s, however, the state's Education Department set the minimum at eight to save money. In 1998, state lawmakers boosted the enrollment minimum to 10.
Since then, 18 schools have closed because of student shortages, Jeans said.
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