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7/22/2013
Tenakee Springs school in danger

SITKA (AP) — A small community in Southeast Alaska must double the size of its student population before the end of the month or face closure.

School board members in Tenakee Springs are trying to get people to move to town to save the school, but it might be an uphill battle as other residents are looking to move elsewhere for their children’s education, KCAW reported.

The community is located on Chichagof Island, about 50 miles north of Sitka. The community is only accessible by boat or plane, and has — depending on the time of year — between 50 and 100 residents.

There are five students enrolled in school.

“We need 10 students in order to be considered a school under state law,” resident and regional school board member Shawna Harper said.

The regional school board will likely decide Aug. 6 whether the school stays open. Unlike other parts of the state, the remote nature of Tenakee Springs limits options if the school closes.

“We cannot just put our child on a bus and send them to another school in another district that’s close by, especially in Tenakee because we are so remote,” she said. “The students have no other alternative other than to move out of the community or home school or take some sort of correspondence school.”

Schools begin losing state funding when the student population goes below 10 students.

It’s not the first time the Chatham School District, of which Tenakee Springs belongs, has faced this decision.

Twice in the last 20 years, the student population has fallen to the point the district had to consider closing it. But both times, the board kept the school open and absorbed any loss of state revenue.

“But in those other two instances, we’ve had nine students,” Harper said, noting it might be a tougher argument with only five.

The economic impact on the small community is another concern since the school, with seven employees, is the largest employer in town.

In the past, the district has done outreach to keep the school’s population higher, including advertising in magazines and newspapers and attracting foreign students. However, that plan fell through with the foreign exchange program found out there wasn’t a hospital in town.

Gordon Chew, the chairman of the Tenakee Springs School Board, said they are now spreading the news that enrollment is low with the hope someone will move to Tenakee Springs.

“It’s happened numerous times before,” he said. “Some of our greatest assets right now are people that moved here and stayed. We had a family of five move (to Tenakee) a couple years ago from Juneau. They stayed as long as they could, but they had to move on. We just don’t seem to have any aces in the hole this year.”