Veterans, parents, students and staff celebrate Veterans Day at Ben Eielson Junior/Senior High School on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, Nov. 10, 2023.

Veterans, parents, students and staff celebrate Veterans Day at Ben Eielson Junior/Senior High School on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, Nov. 10, 2023. (Julie Avey/U.S. Air Force)

The local school district decided last week to close Ben Eielson Junior-Senior High School on Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska at the end of the school year due to budget shortfalls.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, which administers the Ben Eielson school, decided March 19 to close the school when classes end in May.

“I recognize the closing of Ben Eielson Jr/Sr High is incredibly hard news for impacted students, families, and staff,” Luke Meinert, Fairbanks North Star Borough School District superintendent, said in a news release Wednesday. “This wasn’t an easy choice for the school board and I know the deep sense of loss and uncertainty it may cause families and staff.”

Eielson Air Force Base commander Col. Paul Townsend expressed disappointment over the school board’s decision in a statement Thursday.

“I share your disappointment with the decision to close our school,” Townsend said in a news release. “We did our best as a community to influence the final decision but the inability of the district to find a solution to the budget shortfalls ultimately drove the closure decision.”

Ben Eielson is the second base school to close recently. The school district in 2022 shuttered Anderson Elementary School and moved its kindergarten and first grade to another base school, Crawford Elementary. The schools on Eielson Air Force Base are administered by the local school district, not the Department of Defense Education Activity.

The high school has 365 students and employs 44 faculty and staff, Ben Eielson’s school liaison program manager, Earnest Kincade, told Stars and Stripes by email March 8. Ben Eielson students would transfer to North Pole Middle School and High School.

Closing junior-senior high school, which includes 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.

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, Meinert said in a Feb. 7 news release. 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.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed Senate Bill 140, which would have raised the base student allocation by 11.5%, or $680 per student, but would have left the school district with a $21 million deficit.

“After a thorough analysis and careful consideration, I have decided to veto Senate Bill 140,” Dunleavy said in a March 15 post on X, formerly Twitter. “Although I SUPPORT an increase to the BSA – there were no new approaches, other than enhanced funding, to increase educational outcomes.”

author picture
Joseph Ditzler is a Marine Corps veteran and the Pacific editor for Stars and Stripes. He’s a native of Pennsylvania and has written for newspapers and websites in Alaska, California, Florida, New Mexico, Oregon and Pennsylvania. He studied journalism at Penn State and international relations at the University of Oklahoma.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now