The Anchorage School District says its new online lottery system will make getting into its alternative programs and schools fairer -- but with no transportation provided to them, will all students truly have equal access?
The deadline to enter the fall 2013 program lottery is coming up Friday, and with some programs already full ASD officials are touting the computerized system as a transparent and equitable solution.
"Families like having access to their child's application, right there on their computer or on their phone -- they have real-time information about where they are at on the waiting list," said Lucas Saltzman, the principal at Aquarian Charter School. "There is a nice transparency there, and it has administratively reduced some of our work load."
Saltzman knows just how long the wait can be for the district's most highly demanded programs. His school, which teaches 375 children from across the city, has a waiting list of more than 600 students.
"For some people it's just closer to their home, for other people it's the Spanish component, for some people it's the arts or the academic components," Saltzman said.
Neither Aquarian nor any other ASD alternative or charter school provides district transportation, however, so every family has to get their child there on their own.
"Sometimes we can't; (the) logistics of it are sometimes impossible, so it would be nice to have an option that is open to everyone," Saltzman said.
The Anchorage School Board recognizes that the lack of transport options shuts some students out. Board member Pat Higgins says the body is considering how to possibly duplicate services similar to the alternative programs in neighborhood schools.
"We have a lot of fantastic choices here, but without transportation for parents, the opportunity isn't there and I really don't want to see it based upon financial capability of transporting kids," Higgins said. "I'd like to see it more diverse than that."
While the district is looking into providing rides for alternative students, ASD currently pays $25 million a year in transportation costs -- and officials say expanding service would only increase that price tag.
"It depends on what the options are that the board would ultimately suggest," said Mike Abbott, ASD's chief operating officer. "Certainly there are options that could be considered that would cost tens of millions of dollars, and there (are) less expensive options as well."
The district eventually hopes to accommodate for students whose parents have to work throughout the day.
"We want working parents to rest assured that if they have to come a little bit early, there's going to be someone there for their child, and if they are going to be a little bit later there will be someone there for their child," said Glenn Nielsen, the district's executive director of elementary education.
The application deadline for ASD's online school lottery system is Friday at 3 p.m. Due to limited space, not all students will get into their schools of choice.
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