Lori Lambert with students from Klukwan School in 2019 (Claire Stremple for KHNS)

The Chatham School District received more than $ 700,000 in federal COVID relief funding this year. It was then that the district debated whether to close the Klukwan school due to the low enrollment rate and the loss of state funding. But as KHNS’s Corinne Smith reports, questions remain as to whether this will be used to help fill the void for Klukwan’s school.

Chatham School District received $ 1,104,917 in federal COVID relief funding, most recently $ 706,428 in US bailout funding, according to the state’s education website.

The federal aid money went unrecorded during nearly three months of very emotional and often tense public negotiations between the district school board and Klukwan’s leadership over the future of his school. Enrollment at Klukwan fell to six students in October, below the threshold of 10 – the minimum to receive state funding.

Federal funding is aimed at supporting districts during the COVID pandemic, with a wide range of eligible spending guided by stakeholder feedback. The district is supposed to collect public comments, develop a plan and report to the state.

Superintendent Bruce Houck confirmed via email that the district is working on the state’s request to receive the grant of more than $ 700,000, but he did not respond to repeated requests for comment on whether funding could be spent to help fill the void in Klukwan.

Klukwan’s school currently has six students in Kindergarten to Grade 5, the community says more families would be interested in attending if there was a full-time teacher, a reliable bus and a hot meal program ( Photo courtesy of Frances Leak)

The five-member Chatham School District Education Council did not respond to requests for comment.

Grant Robinson, spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, or DEED, said applications are being reviewed as they arise and there is no deadline set. Robinson said it was awaiting approval from their CFO and superintendent and then would be reviewed by the state within 14 days. The funds are available until September 2024.

At a special roundtable discussion on November 17, board members estimated the Klukwan School’s budget deficit at around $ 268,000 this year. The superintendent told council that the state is awarding about $ 22,000 per student.

“We have to supplement their budget at the expense of other sites,” Superintendent Bruce Houck told the board. “And the board agreed to do it. And so, but now that we’re below the 10, that puts a different point on that. “

The district budgeted for a full-time teacher in Klukwan at $ 64,000 per year, but could not find a teacher this fall. The six elementary school students in Klukwan have been taught by substitutes since August. Over the past few weeks, the board has debated whether to hire a teacher for the next term, given ongoing discussions about whether to close the school.

Principal Bradley King confirmed on Tuesday that the district hired a teacher, Laura McIndoe, but only from January to March.

This is after urging the Klukwan community. They say a teacher is essential in getting students back to school and increasing enrollment. Shanah Kinneson is on the Klukwan School Advisory Board.

“It’s just a little embarrassing to keep asking people, do you want to come back to school? Do you want to come to Klukwan school? And they say: do you already have a teacher? So we’re a little bit at a standstill when it comes to recruiting, ”Kinneson said.

According to the state website, Chatham School District received $ 83,998 in CARES Act funds in 2020, but failed to spend it, so it was later canceled. So far in 2021, they’ve only spent $ 58,443.87 of that price.

In 2021, they received an additional $ 314,490.99 in COVID relief funding and to date they have spent only $ 103,103.65.

The grant of $ 706,428 would provide an increase of approximately 22% in the district budget. This represents more than $ 3.2 million for 2021 to support four school sites and 136 students.

In the meantime, the Chilkat Indian village of Klukwan decided to fill the gap – when the district failed to repair the Klukwan school bus, CIV loaned the village van for pickup and return to school. for last year, covering the cost of gasoline, and recruited volunteer drivers. The school bus returned from Juneau in November, but its interior was moldy because he was sitting outside and he had mechanical problems. So it still does not work or is still not in use.

The tribal government organized volunteers to provide on-site support for tutoring and special events, a hot meal program – which was cut by the district last year – and provides a free snow plow service for the ‘school.

More recently, it has been proposed to cover expenses related to water, sewerage, waste and some heating fuels from the school building to help the district reduce costs and continue to provide transportation. Dan Hotch is a member of the Klukwan School Advisory Board and a member of a tribal village, and told Chatham board members that he will be put to the tribal council for a vote this week.

“We’re trying to find different ways to really help the district,” Hotch said. “The village (Indian chilkat) bends over backwards to try to figure out what we can do to help and at our next meeting we are present to try to help a little more on the cost of fuel just for the building, but it has to be voted on by the council.

The next special meeting on the future of the Klukwan school is scheduled for Thursday, December 9 at 6 p.m.

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