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Teachers, Adminstration Streamline to "Core Functioning"


School employees in Fairbanks have been scaled back to only those who must be at their work stations to get their jobs done. Like so many organizations in Alaska, the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District is sending people home to work. As KUAC’s Robyne reports, the details of are still being worked out.

Superintendent Karen Gaborik calls it “core functioning.”

After public health officials mandated schools be closed through March, (last Friday, March 13) the district’s 14,000 students are staying home. The district’s teachers, however, returned to work on Monday to figure out how to teach kids who aren’t in the classroom.

Gaborik answered questions in an interview at school district offices Tuesday. She announced that morning the increase in COVID-19 confirmed cases in Fairbanks triggered her to limit employees at the workplace. She tapped the table for emphasis.

“It took me to core functioning. Only people in this building and the schools that absolutely need to be sitting at their work location. If you can work from home, then work from home.”

Teachers were ordered home from school at mid-day Tuesday. The district’s response to the public health emergency from the COVID-19 pandemic has been a constant shift, changing daily.

Last night the Board of Education held a meeting to pass a resolution to make emergency policy decisions. The resolution passed unanimously. It would also allow the board to meet with fewer than 10 people in the room, and to take public testimony through an electronic screen, instead of a citizen making comments being in the same room. They will try to work the new system to take public testimony at another meeting tonight. The agenda for tonight’s meeting is next year’s budget.

The school closures may impact this year’s budget.

Gaborik has already put a freeze on any discretionary spending. But not discretionary are labor costs. The district has three employment contracts with teachers, principals and support staff. The district’s HR director, Clare Morton says employees who are working during the school closure will be paid.

“The next payroll is going be pretty intense, but we are poised to make people whole, through March 27.”

State law requires public schools to have a minimum number of student contact days. The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District has built in a few extra days each year, anticipating bad weather. But not two weeks. Gaborik told the school board last night the district is taking guidance from the state’s Department of Education and Early Development and might ask for a waiver from the minimum contact days requirement.

Gaborik says teachers need to prepare for a shorter year, with lessons need to focus narrowly on the minimum state requirements.

 “If we are able to come back to school and finish out the semester, what are the essential things they need to walk out the door from.”

A big worry is what happens if the kids aren’t able to come back. Teachers will have to develop distance learning for the diverse needs of their students, some who could study online, but others have no internet access. 

Then there are graduations. Presiding officer Tim Doran read some email testimony from a North Pole High School senior, and Superintendent Gaborik responded that she was not prepared to cancel graduations yet.

The district has a new school closures link on the website that is updated every day.