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District ponders BRAC impact

It could only take a decline of about 35 students to cause Grand Forks Air Force Base's two schools to merge, according to guidelines being proposed by School District officials in response to the base's realignment.

It could only take a decline of about 35 students to cause Grand Forks Air Force Base's two schools to merge, according to guidelines being proposed by School District officials in response to the base's realignment.

However, officials offered several ideas for keeping the schools open during a special base school board meeting Thursday, including opening the base schools to outside students.

Guidelines proposed call for the possibility of using just one school with enrollments totaling less than 600 students. According to the latest district enrollment report, 632 students attend GFAFB's schools Carl Ben Eielson Elementary and Nathan Twining Elementary and Middle School. Eielson has 344 students in preschool and Head Start programs through third grade. Twining has 288 students in grades four through eight.

If approved, the guidelines would be added to the Grand Forks and GFAFB School Districts' joint powers agreement, which allows the districts to share resources and pool funding. School board members are expected to meet the next several months to solidify a plan.

"It's a working document to start from and it can be modified, but it's a start," District superintendent Mark Sanford said.

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Base School Board members will review anticipated enrollment figures when they become available each spring for at least the next two years. The proposed guidelines are intended to help officials plan for issues such as the number and type of staff members required, and what to do with Eielson should it not be needed.

With student numbers above 600, the schools would operate as usual.

If enrollment falls between 400 and 600, school board members would have the option of combining the schools into one, retaining all grade levels, preschool and Head Start.

With between 150 and 400 students, there would be one school, located at Twining. It can handle a greater number of students, recently received a new addition, contains all the science and technology labs and has sporting venues, officials said.

With less than 150 students, the board could use one school or bus students to Grand Forks schools.

Sanford suggested school board and base officials should consider partnering with neighboring districts, such as Larimore and Emerado, N.D., which also are expected to lose students with the realignment.

"That may be one thing you want to consider is your receptivity to other partners," Sanford said.

Carla Gammon, base mission support group commander, said she'd look into the possibility.

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"We usually look to the east, but we could look to the west," she said. "We definitely want to focus on what's best for our students."

School Board member Jill Ayers suggested the base schools could start offering high school classes to retain those students and have higher enrollment. Many of those students attend Grand Forks high schools.

Sanford said Twining has the facilities to support high school students, but advanced placement, technology and other programs may have to be sacrificed if there's not enough demand.

Board member Mary Johnson said she's concerned that if young base students are bused into Grand Forks, they will be sent to different schools. She said she hopes base students would stay together.

The Grand Forks region is expected to lose 375 to 550 students by 2011, according to a recent study by the Grand Forks Region Base Realignment Impact Committee. The base will be realigned by that year, moving the 319th Air Refueling Wing and its KC-135 tanker aircraft and transitioning to an unmanned aerial vehicle mission.

The number of base students enrolled in the Grand Forks and Grand Forks Air Force Base School Districts already has decreased from 1,150 in the 2001-2002 school year to about 850 this year, according to the study. The loss of one student causes the districts to lose about $9,000 in annual per student revenue, the study said.

Enrollment dropped by 27 students in the last year at base schools. The number of staff members has declined from about 125 in 2005 to about 110, according to Sanford.

Fluctuating base populations has caused the school districts to experience other fall outs in the past. After peaking at nearly 12,000 students in the early 1970s, Grand Forks K-12 enrollment fell to about 8,300 by the mid-80s, then grew to about 9,800 by the 1996-1997 school year. The districts then took a hit with the 1997 flood and the departure of a missile wing from the base.

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According to the district, elementary schools should have 150 to 500 students; middle schools should have 200 to 750 students and high schools should have 400 to 1,000 students.

Two Grand Forks elementary schools have slightly less students than the range. Wilder Elementary has 108 students, two less than last year. Winship Elementary has 147 students, six less than last year.

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