Air Force JROTC cadets from Ben Eielson Junior-Senior High School at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, in December 2014.

Air Force JROTC cadets from Ben Eielson Junior-Senior High School at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, in December 2014. (Joseph Swafford/U.S. Air Force)

A school on Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska may close its doors at the end of the school year due to budget shortfalls.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, which administers Ben Eielson Junior-Senior High School, is considering closing the school as it finalizes its fiscal year 2025 budget.

The district’s final decision is expected Monday, according to an Air Force news release Feb. 23.

The district is facing a budget deficit of between $16 million and $29 million, depending on how much funding it receives from the state and borough, district superintendent Luke Meinert said in a Feb. 7 news release.

The base, 26 miles from Fairbanks in Alaska’s interior, is home to one F-16 Aggressor squadron and two F-35A Lightning II squadrons.

It’s lone high school has 365 students and employs 44 faculty and staff, Ben Eielson’s school liaison program manager, Earnest Kincade, said by email Friday.

Closing Ben Eielson, which teaches grades six through 12, would save the school district $2 million a year and $13.9 million in needed facility repairs, according to an Alaska Public Media report last month.

Ben Eielson students would transfer to North Pole Middle School and High School, according to the report.

“Some parents have expressed that they will not send their children to a school off-base,” Kincade said. “They have expressed that they are considering homeschool options.”

North Pole Middle School lacks the Air Force Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program available at Eielson, according to Lt. Col. John Gillard, deputy director of the 354th Medical Group clinic.

“Our 8th grader is heavily involved in JROTC, which is a unique opportunity for 8th graders here at Eielson because of the joint middle and high school building,” he told Stars and Stripes in an email Friday. “It has been an incredible opportunity for her to quickly make friends and also develop her own path within military culture.”

The local schools offer courses that the Eielson school does not, including wood shop, small engines, auto mechanics, culinary arts and welding, Kincade said.

Ben Eielson is the second school on the air base marked for closure in recent years.

In 2022, the district closed the on-base Anderson Elementary School and moved kindergarten and first grade to Crawford Elementary, also on base and with classes up to fifth grade.

The school district receives approximately 60% of its funding from the state through a per student allocation that has not seen a meaningful increase since 2017, Meinert said in the district’s release.

“My office has been working hard to help fund the school district shortfall by passing a comprehensive funding package,” state Rep. Frank Tomaszewski of Fairbanks told Stars and Stripes by email Wednesday.

The measure, Senate Bill 140, raises the allocation by 11.5% or $680 per student, he said. Gov. Mike Dunleavy has indicated his opposition to the measure, which would still leave the school district $21 million short.

“We need to fix a couple of things in that bill,” Dunleavy said in a Feb. 29 post on X, formerly Twitter. “If it’s just going to be about money and nothing else, I’m not interested in having this bill become law.”

For parents at Eielson, quality of life is a big worry, Gillard said.

“I’m concerned that this will negatively impact our families and ultimately the mission of the base,” he said. “It might lead to logistical challenges for parents, increased stress, and potentially impact the retention of personnel due to decreased quality of life.”

His own children can thrive because of the Eielson school, Gillard said. “This closure would disrupt the small bit of stability we were able to provide here on base.”

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Jonathan Snyder is a reporter at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. Most of his career was spent as an aerial combat photojournalist with the 3rd Combat Camera Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. He is also a Syracuse Military Photojournalism Program and Eddie Adams Workshop alumnus.

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