Anchorage school board weighs charter loan program

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The Anchorage School Board is scheduled to consider a proposal aimed at addressing a lack of space in the city's growing charter schools.

The resolution on Monday's agenda would establish a $5 million fund from which charter schools could take out long-term, low-interest loans to help deal with cramped facilities. The money would come from the school district's unassigned fund balance.

The resolution was proposed by board member Natasha von Imhof, who has had two children go through the Rilke Schule German School of Arts and Sciences. The school recently had to make use of space in its kitchen for kindergarten assessments.

"It's been a constant, constant need for more space," Principal Dean Ball said.

Unlike other public schools, where the district generally pays for buildings through bond issues approved by voters, charters schools, run by outside groups, must pay for facilities from their operating budgets. Lease costs eat into budgets, and a lack of affordable space often finds students housed in unexpected places.

The 440 students at Rilke Schule, for example, are housed in three floors at Wellspring Ministries, six outdoor portable classrooms and Abbott Loop Elementary School. Winterberry Charter School bounced among two churches and an old U.S. Geological Survey facility before moving to its current newly built facility, the Alaska Dispatch News ( reported.

"We're trying to provide an innovative program, and at the same time we don't have the same dollars to work with that your neighborhood schools do," Winterberry Principal Shanna Mall said.

The district has nine charter schools, including two for home-school families and one that has yet to open because it can't find space.

Von Imhof said she hopes that by setting up a loan fund, the district could be in a position to receive additional state and federal dollars for charter schools, if that money is available.

Givey Kochanowski, chair of Rilke Schule's Academic Policy Committee, said a district loan would allow the school to avoid borrowing at higher rates on the private market.

Mike Abbott, the district's chief operating officer, said the district has tried to give charters flexibility in acquiring and maintaining facilities.

Rilke Schule, a German immersion school, has a janitorial staff at night but no daytime custodian, Ball said. The school has no library, computer lab or cafeteria. Students eat lunch in classrooms with their teachers.

The school's lease at Wellspring Ministries ends this summer and has not been renewed. The charter school is working with a construction company on a new building that it would lease with an eventual goal of owning.

"We need to be a single-campus, K-through-8 location," Kochanowski said.

Von Imhof said the school board may consider a lease for that building Monday, which could include a $2 million long-term district loan.

The school board has discussed looking at whether the district could bond for charter school buildings and renovations. No resolution has been proposed.


Information from: Alaska Dispatch News,

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