While there have been rumors that the Lower Kuskokwim School District has lost funding for capital projects to build or maintain its school buildings, the Alaska Department of Education (ADOE) says that’s not true.
“All the funding that has been granted to them, it’s not in any jeopardy,” said Tim Mearig, ADOE facilities manager. “We’re only talking about the eligibility for future funding.”
Mearig did confirm that LKSD failed a state inspection in March, but the district says that it’s just a technicality. ADOE requires districts to have a record of the cost and schedule of any maintenance activities done on its buildings.
LKSD Superintendent Dan Walker says that the inspection failure was caused because the district migrated to a new computer system that doesn’t output its report of maintenance activities in the format the state needs. He says that it’s a non-issue because the district will fix the system before the August 1 deadline. If it doesn’t make the fix in time, the district would not be included on ADOE's list of recommended capital projects for fiscal year 2021.
Mearig says that, “it’s a big deal to not be on the list, because there’s a source of funding that has generally been available.”
Only the department’s list of recommended projects for 2021 is in question. The list for 2020 is already final, and ADOE has recommended that the state fund $172 million for LKSD construction projects for that upcoming fiscal year. That’s 89 percent of their total recommendations for all school construction projects in the entire state. Walker says that LKSD needs a huge amount of capital improvement funding because many of their schools were built in the 70s and 80s.
“Now those schools have reached end of life and need to be replaced,” Walker said. In addition, many schools have been built near a waterway and are at risk of eroding away.
However, the state legislature hasn’t even decided on whether it will take ADOE's recommendations for 2020. It has not passed the budget for next year, which leaves the school district unsure when any of its construction projects will begin.
Among pending construction projects for LKSD is the replacement building for the Ayaprun Elitnaurvik Yup’ik Immersion School that burned down in 2015. Walker says that the effort to rebuild the school is held up because of a dispute with the insurance company over the value of the building that burned down.
“We have filed a lawsuit,” Walker said.
The timeline for that lawsuit and the construction of the new immersion school is undetermined. In the meantime, immersion school students remain at the Kipusvik building that LKSD recently signed a 15-year lease extension on.