Anchorage School District could increase class sizes to close budget gap

Young students sit behind desks in an elementary school classroom.
Students at Birchwood ABC Elementary sit in their classroom on November 1, 2022. Birchwood ABC is one of six schools within the Anchorage School District that administrators recommend closing next year. (Elyssa Loughlin/Alaska Public Media)

The Anchorage School District is considering increasing class sizes in order to close its massive budget gap.

At a work session Monday, district administrators outlined potential savings that could come with increasing the pupil-to-teacher ratio, which measures the number of students per staff member in a school. Currently, it ranges from 21 to 1 in kindergarten to 30 to 1 in middle and high schools.

Increasing the PTR by one across all grades would save the district $7 million and require 60 fewer teachers than the district needs to operate now. Increasing it by five would save the district $32 million and require 274 fewer teachers.

“It wouldn’t mean, necessarily, 274 pink slips if you went that route,” Andy Ratliff, the district’s budget director, told the board. “But it would definitely mean more kids in the classroom and fewer teachers overall.”

Many teaching positions are already vacant. The district’s hiring page currently lists 139 open teaching jobs. A few hundred teachers usually retire every year, too.

But even if the district can avoid layoffs, teachers union president Corey Aist is still worried about the impacts of large class sizes on both teachers and students. 

“In the higher grades, it’s that much harder to run science labs, to support students in more challenging math classes,” he said. “I’m not grading 25 students’ essays – now I have 35, 40 students’ essays. All those things take an impact on our educators, on time and on student outcomes.”

Aist said class sizes are already bigger than teachers would like. In a recent survey conducted by the union, more than half of middle school teachers said they had 31 to 35 students in their classes.

School board member Kelly Lessens said she would be interested in a layered approach in order to limit class size increases for younger grades.

“For example, increasing K-12 by one and a PTR increase of three or four or five to some of the upper grades,” she said at the work session.

But that could significantly reduce the amount of savings. If the district only increased the PTR for sixth through 12th grade, it would save the district $3 to $14 million, depending on the size of the increase.

The board will continue discussing potential budget cuts at a work session on Saturday, Dec. 10. Administrators must submit a balanced budget to the school board in February and to the Anchorage Assembly in March.

[Sign up for Alaska Public Media’s daily newsletter to get our top stories delivered to your inbox.]

Previous article12-year-old girl dead, boy held in Muldoon shooting
Next articleAlaska officials hope switch to stronger opioid reversal drug will help quell rise in fentanyl