Alyeska still faces uncertain future

School asks teachers if they would be willing to transfer to district

Posted: Thursday, December 23, 2004

Alyeska Central School, a statewide correspondence school based in Juneau, may close if it doesn't make further cuts in expenses, officials with the Yukon Koyukuk School District said.

Last week, the school laid off its nine-person support staff. A district statement, placed on Alyeska's Web site and sent to the Empire on Friday, had said the school would continue to offer the same standard of service.

But this week, the school asked if any four members of the 13-person teaching staff would be willing to transfer to open positions in the district, which operates Alyeska as a charter school.

By Wednesday, one teacher had shown an interest in taking a district position, which would be moved to Juneau, said Thomas Klever, the Alyeska interim director.

"The district likes to fill (openings) from within," he said. "This would be a way to alleviate the budget situation we're in."

Yukon Koyukuk also runs village schools in the Interior and another statewide correspondence program called Raven.

All the district's schools must live within their budgets, including the village schools, which have seen layoffs when necessary, said Superintendent Christopher Simon.

Alyeska, with about 340 students in kindergarten through grade 12, has about half the enrollment than was projected, he said. The budget was planned for a student-teacher ratio of 50-to-1. Instead, it's at 27-to-1, Simon said.

"Our hope is to make it through this year and continue to grow next year," Simon said.

But if four teachers don't leave the Alyeska staff by transferring to other open positions, Simon isn't sure the school can stay open, he said.

District officials will meet with teachers on Jan. 4, Klever said.

The district is obligated by contract to pay its teachers through the school year. Simon said he wasn't sure how the district would do that if it closes the school.

The faculty believes the district wants to keep Alyeska open, said teacher Debbie Chalmers.

The problem is getting through this year, she said. Any students added now wouldn't generate state money because the official count period, which determines funding, has passed.

"I think we all have good ideas for what we can do for next year, but it all requires some expenditure of money, and generating students now doesn't help," Chalmers said.

The school is funded by the state as a correspondence school, and so it receives 80 percent of the per-student funding of regular schools. School districts are not obliged to give charter schools more than the state-generated funding.

Reducing the teaching staff by four "doesn't make it a perfect budget, but they're trying to be within $100,000 over that they could absorb," Klever said.

Yukon Koyukuk took over Alyeska in July, winning a request-for-proposals process. The state ran Alyeska since 1939, but in 2003 the Murkowski administration said it planned to close the school. Instead, the state ran Alyeska last year while the Department of Education solicited requests from Alaska school districts to operate it.

Yukon Koyukuk has no contract with the state regarding Alyeska and no obligation to continue the school, said Karen Rehfeld, state deputy commissioner of education.

Even last school year, under state operation, Alyeska was struggling financially. The Department of Education received a $650,000 supplement from the Legislature because enrollment was down, Rehfeld said. The school had 412 students last school year.

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