Fewer students, funds driving potential GFAFB school closing
Several Grand Forks Air Force Base parents gathered Thursday to hear about a possible consolidation of base schools that would reassign staff and could happen as early as next year.
The School Board there held a meeting at Nathan F. Twining Elementary and Middle School so people could hear about the potential closure of the other base school, Carl Ben Eielson Elementary, which could save an estimated $588,843 and cover a majority of the district’s anticipated deficit next year.
Carl Ben Eielson currently holds pre-kindergarten through third grade students while Twining holds grades four through eight.
Although the decision to consolidate failed at a base School Board meeting in 2012, “the reasons behind it still haven’t changed,” said Chairman Seth Lininger.
Decreased student enrollment, base mission changes, lack of base housing and a nearly 62 percent decline in federal funding since 2008 have prompted the consolidation, which has been discussed by the district for several years.
Since the mid 1990s, when both base schools had peak enrollments, the overall student population has decreased about 78 percent to 343 students this fall.
The School Board will vote on the consolidation at the next meeting April 15.
One school, two schools
In 2007, both districts developed a consolidation plan and each unanimously approved it every year since, said school officials.
“It’s not something new,” said Superintendent Larry Nybladh.
Federal decisions regarding military bases in 2005 led to mission realignment at the base, and the transition involved in the realignment was anticipated to cause decreased student enrollment levels, according to the district. That prompted both districts to develop a plan.
The expected $588,483 in savings from consolidation includes reductions in staff and operational expenses, but that’s “a very conservative number,” said Business Manager Vicky Schwartz. The district’s anticipated deficit next year is $618,461.
Both School Boards determined Twining would be chosen to stay open if the schools had to consolidate. Twining would be organized as a pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school, as it had been in the past, according to the district. The school changed to hold only fourth through eighth grade students in 2002.
Only one principal would lead the school, while other staff could be reassigned to schools in town. The remaining employees either planned on retiring or are leaving the district of their own accord, said Assistant Superintendent Jody Thompson.
“We don’t think we’ll have to terminate anyone,” he said.
School officials said other benefits include expanded choices for students in a combined library and more time with teachers, who no longer have to be shared between two buildings.
Several parents asked questions about maintaining programs, federal funding, class sizes and staffing. School officials told the crowd that the consolidation wouldn’t mean a change to curriculum, programs or services.
“Everything you have at Eielson you will continue to have at Twining,” said Twining Principal Mary Koopman.