Anchorage School District proposes scaling back gifted program to address budget shortfall

A 5th grade student with his back to the audience sits at a desk in front of a panel of adults
Carter Vigil, 10, of Bowman Elementary School in Anchorage gives public testimony at the school board meeting February 4, 2020. He is part of IGNITE, an enrichment program that will undergo a “redesign” as part of the district’s operating budget proposal. (Mayowa Aina/Alaska Public)

The Anchorage School District is proposing eliminating the IGNITE program in its current form to help make up for a $20 million budget shortfall for the next school year.

The District presented the plan at the school board meeting Tuesday night for a first read.

IGNITE is an “enrichment based program for gifted learners” according to the Anchorage School District website. And the District calls the change to the program a “redesign.” Currently, students in the IGNITE program are pulled out of their regular classes for specialized sessions. Under the new budget proposal, students would no longer be pulled out of class and IGNITE sessions would be incorporated into the ‘what I need’ (WIN) time that all students receive.

The budget also proposes one 60 minute late start or early release day per week across the entire district.

At the meeting, Superintendent Deena Bishop said it was a difficult choice but better than increasing class sizes.

“In thinking about operating the district with the goals for which the board has asked for student learning, I’m not sure what else to redesign or to eliminate,” she said. “I don’t have any more options.”

Bishop noted the budget proposes spending more money in some areas, including on special education teachers. The budget, posted online, shows how each school will be impacted by the cuts.

Several administrators, parents, and students testified at the meeting advocating for staff and programs. Carter Vigil, a 5th grader from Bowman Elementary, advocated for the IGNITE program.

Carter Vigil testifies at the Anchorage School District School Board Meeting February 4, 2020. (Video: Anchorage School District Youtube Page)

“I’ve been in IGNITE since 2nd grade, and I would like to see the program stay in schools because I really enjoy it,” he said after reciting over a dozen elements of the periodic table from memory. “My friends and I get to learn about engineering, chemistry, and we get to be surgeons and biologists. Just on Monday we dissected frogs.”

School board president Starr Marsett said she predicts balancing the budget will only get more difficult in the future. She plans to go to Juneau in the coming weeks to talk with legislators about school funding.

“Since 2013 we have had flat funding” she said.”I’m going to be talking [with legislators] about everything we’ve lost in this school district.”

The school board will consider amendments to the proposed budget and take more public testimony at their next meeting on Tuesday, February 18.