Low enrollment threatens Klukwan school
August 15, 2019
Klukwan School may be at risk of closing due to a lack of enrollment, as parents discuss pulling their children from the school.
At the beginning of last year, Klukwan School had 28 students; that number dropped to about 17 by the spring. This summer, several families are pulling their children out of the school, or considering the option, according to cultural studies teacher Justina Hotch. Some frustrated families cite dissatisfaction with district administration as reasons for pulling their children.
In Alaska, schools with less than 10 students qualify for the smallest level of state funding, said Erin Hardin, Department of Education and Early Education spokesperson. “It is then up to the district to look at their budget and determine, do they have enough funding necessary to maintain and operate a school?”
Chatham School District, which administers Klukwan School, would decide whether or not they could afford to keep the school open.
In March, former district superintendent Ann Hilburn said that if Klukwan’s enrollment drops below 10 students. they would close the school. Current superintendent Bruce Houck did not respond in time to comment.
The Chatham School District oversees Klukwan, Gustavus, Angoon and Tenakee schools. It is one of the lowest funded school districts in the state, according to former Klukwan School teacher Jessica Tipkemper, and both Klukwan and Angoon are federally designated high-need schools.
The enrollment count for Klukwan School will be taken over 20 school days ending on the fourth Friday in October, said Erin Hardin.
At least two families say they are concerned with how the school will provide special education (SPED) services to their children. The school’s only teacher with special education endorsements resigned last month, and the Chatham School District, which oversees Klukwan, created a new position this year to coordinate special education services. Former superintendent Hilburn was hired for the job in June.
Symaron George, a parent of two Klukwan School students, said she is pulling her children from the school this year. Her eldest child has autism and requires special education services. Another parent, Maggie Hotch, said she and her husband are concerned with how their son’s needs will be met. Hotch’s son requires intensive special services from multi-disability specialists. She said she is not confident that Hilburn could manage her son’s services from off-site. Marschke coordinated her son’s services last year.
At a regional school board meeting on Tuesday, Klukwan School staff and parents raised questions to the district: is the district on-track to hire a teacher for Marschke’s position? Can they look for a teacher in their community? How will the district meet the needs of special education students without a special education teacher on-site? Will kitchen staff be hired for the school? If enrollment falls below 10 students, what would that mean for the school’s current staff?
The Chatham school board was unresponsive to Klukwan parents’ questions because answering them is against procedure, board members said. The board directed Klukwan to contact the superintendent the next day. The superintendent said in an email that he will answer some of these questions later in the week.
At the meeting, board members voiced disappointment with Marschke for resigning.
“It should be common knowledge throughout the state that these people (special education teachers) are the hardest to find, and there is no recourse for what this person (Marschke) has done to our district,” said school board member Albert Howard. “This person left Chatham in a tough spot, and you can quote me on that.”
“This just absolutely speaks for us to be 31 days before the start of school, we thought we were lined up, and we get to July 20 and we’re looking for a teacher? And we have no recourse. That’s stunning. I would certainly hope to address that in a negotiated agreement in the future,” said school board vice president Elizabeth Hooge.
Klukwan School starts on August 26.