We all want our kids to have the best chance of success in life. Anchorage’s public schools play a vital role in that outcome. Unfortunately, we are hobbling our kids’ academic opportunities by allocating far too many of our nation-leading education dollars to facilities. We continue to see the emphasis placed on buildings, not educational outcomes.

I first became aware of this a few years ago when the current Clark Middle School building was constructed. The per-square-foot cost of the new middle school exceeded the per-square-foot cost of the Anchorage VA Medical Center which was built around the same time. How is that possible? At that time, the justification was that the fancy school facility was needed in order to improve student outcomes. Here we are, a dozen years later, still waiting for those promised outcomes.

Perhaps these actions would make sense if our student population was rapidly growing, but it’s not. Anchorage School District (ASD) enrollment peaked 20 years ago at about 50,000 thousand students. Fall 2021 enrollment for ASD  was below 40,000 (when accounting for charter school enrollment). The last time ASD had fewer than 40,000 kids in ASD school buildings was 39 years ago – in 1983. Current ASD demographic projections indicate this trend will continue for some time. In fact, the latest ASD Capital Improvement Plan expects enrollment will drop by another 5,000 students by 2027.

With the rapid drop in student enrollment over the last 20 years, you might think there would be a corresponding drop in facilities, but you would be wrong. Unexplainably, the opposite has happened. Since 1983, the last time we had so few students, the total size of ASD facilities has grown by 49.2%, a whopping 2.6 million square feet of extra space. Using a conservative number of $25 a square foot annually for heat, light and maintenance, the additional space costs $65 million a year. When the extra cost of principal and interest are included for this added footprint, the total additional cost to Anchorage residents is around $95 million a year.

Why are Anchorage residents footing a $95 million dollar bill for unneeded space, when student educational outcomes desperately need improvement? Alaska is ranked dead last in the U.S. in national reading scores for both low-income and upper/middle-income students. And before you think that the rest of the state is dragging ASD scores down, guess again. ASD is ranked 22nd in the state in language arts out of 54 school districts.

Imagine what could happen if that $95 million dollars in facilities costs (which amounts to more than $2,000 per student, or a $34,000 raise per classroom teacher with ASD average class sizes of 17 students per teacher) was redirected every year to improve student outcomes by retaining and attracting top teaching talent. ASD’s Proposition 1 facilities bond mailer includes the tagline “All of Our Children.” It’s time for ASD to focus on the “Children” by spending more money in the classroom and not on fancy spacious buildings. Join me in voting No on Proposition 1.

The views expressed here are those of the author.

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Vote NO on Anchorage school bonds: Focus must be students, not buildings

Jodi Taylor
Jodi Taylor is the Board Chair for Alaska Policy Forum, she and her husband are the parents of six children. She's a business owner, and finds joy in serving to create an environment where families can thrive.


  • Proud Alaskan says:

    The radio ads say if you vote yes for this bond. Then the school district won’t do a bond next year. Right they never stop just give us your money.
    Take your kids out of these schools before it’s to late.

    • AK Pilot says:

      I noticed that when I actually read the bond proposition on the ballott it made no mention of not asking for a bond next year. Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see!

    • Sharon Alice Turner says:

      Our kids need Parents, who actually parent’. They can learn in a ‘tent’ a cabin, any Public (tax payer built) Library. Anywhere moral ethical adults are willing to teach. Not coddled, over paid persons in the grip of powerful agenda driven unions. grandma

  • Michael Lindbeck says:

    Many elementary schools barely use 1/2 their classrooms for actual classes. In the pursuit of “neighborhood” schools, we pay too much for admin & other overhead & have such small enrollments schools are forced to do “combo,” combined grade level classes, despite there already being too much difference in performance in any one grade. 80-100 kids/grade, 4 classes/grade, K-6 in elementary & go from there. Also allows 5-6 to start limited rotation for math & English, the two most critical classes.

    • Sharon Alice Turner says:

      Remember the ads from long ago, that asked “Why can’t Johnny read?” I see no progress from the 70’s. I teach my granddaughters history, they are mixed race to I teach from ‘real’ documented history. Not the ‘lore’ used to brainwash, these days.

  • Buford Pusser says:

    WHY would anyone vote to increase their property tax??

  • Scholastica says:

    Thank you, Jodi, for researching the facts. Buildings do not teach reading and math, people do. Parents, please teach your children, and get assistance from trusted teachers if you need it. After moving to Alaska and seeing the dismal state of education in both the public and private schools, we decided to homeschool to keep our students near the top of the national rankings. We sought help where needed and found there are many people willing to help.

  • Reggie Taylor says:

    The bond shuffle is an old shell game, and it’s played throughout government, not just the schools. Call it “coerced taxation”. Your property taxes are spent on operations, or in the case of snow removal funds, on whatever they wish during winters with light snow. Then when taxpayers start crying about a run down park, leaky school roof, crumbling road, washed out bridge, sinking ferry, giant snow and ice berms on the sides of the roads, et al, they slap a huge bond on the ballot, and pay KTUU and friends buckets of money to whine about the problem, and in the case of schools, that it’s “for the children.” Never mind the fact that roofs are an easily scheduled engineering requirement; labor and materials have warranties, and an organization with 100 roofs can confidently schedule a certain number per year to be replaced so to keep up with them, but that would require budgetary discipline. That’s not something government is real strong on. I guess you can rest assured that budgetary discipline isn’t in school curriculum, either. In short, it’s American Political Mismanagement 101.

  • Natural Alaskan says:

    Vote Yes on the constitutional convention. Create school vouchers for the parents to use at any school they choose. This should be the only money the school receives.

  • OAPsSkweez says:

    I think most of the residents of Anchorage would be appalled at the wasteful spending that goes on at ASD!

  • Herman Nelson says:

    Standard practice for me. Vote no on all bonds and vote no to not retain any judges. Judges who stay in office too long become petty tyrants. Exhibit A: Bev Cutler.

  • Brett Chapman says:

    I am a retired foreman in the construction industry in Anchorage doing projects since 1982. Anchorage taxpayer’s waste millions on schools , one project at Chugach High the columns were wrapped with a sono tube and poured in concrete. When the sono tube was removed instead of painting the concrete to match the color of the walls they wrapped it in stainless steel. The ceiling instead of yours typical white drop tiles it had wood slats and in 2002 the ceiling cost was 150 dollars a square foot. I am sure the fancy stainless wrapped concrete and the lovely ceiling helps the children learn better.