Superintendent Sean Dusek presented the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District quarterly report to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday night, highlighting KPBSD’s successes and budget issues and prompting public comment from several Ninilchik residents about cuts to their school’s funding due to enrollment.
Dusek’s presentation included statistics showing the district’s success in state and national comparisons.
“In a national assessment, we compare very, very well,” he said. “You probably hear a lot about Alaska’s results and if it weren’t for us on the Kenai, they’d be even worse.”
Dusek specifically highlighted the 2016 elementary school Aimsweb assessment, a reading and math screening given to students in the spring. KPBSD’s reading fluency scores showed that 76 percent of students in grades one through five scored average to well above average and math concepts and applications scores showed that 78 percent of students in grades three to five scored average to well above average, when compared to national peers.
In addition to test scores, Dusek said that KPBSD is focused on getting students ready for life and careers through industry certifications and career and technology education classes. In fiscal year 2015, a total of 419 certificates were presented to students to work in industries such as nursing, pharmaceuticals and working with hazardous materials.
“If a kid takes four or more career and tech ed classes, they’re graduating at a rate of 94 percent,” Dusek said. “That’s why we need those classes, we need electives, we need to be able to engage our students.”
Dusek also took an opportunity during the district’s quarterly report to discuss the district’s budget ahead of a March 21 meeting that is scheduled for the Board of Education and Borough Assembly to discuss the 2018 budget.
“You can expect us to request maximum funding but, more importantly, we would like to have a decision made sooner rather than later,” Dusek said.
In the district, there are 150 non-tenured teachers who are waiting to know if they will have a job with KPBSD next year, Dusek said. He would like to have a decision before April because that is when job fairs are held.
“They need certainty, they want to be here. I’m hopeful that you will provide the certainty the state is not providing us,” Dusek said.
One such teacher, Dr. Steven Bezdecny of Ninilchik School, had addressed the Board of Education at their meeting on Monday night expressing his concerns with the cuts at Ninilchik School, a kindergarten through 12th grade school that currently enrolls 125 students.
In the preliminary fiscal year 2018 budget presented by KPBSD school district on Monday, Ninilchik School is facing a cut from 8.66 full time teachers to 7 due to declining enrollment. According to the budget, Ninilchik has a projected enrollment of 113 students next year which is a decrease of 12 students, therefore affecting the funds available to Ninilchik in accordance with Alaska’s Foundation Funding Formula.
“I am the science teacher at Ninilchik School and I don’t know if I will still be the science teacher at Ninilchik next year,” Bezdecny said. “I’m not worried about me, I’m a good teacher and I happen to teach a subject that’s in pretty high demand but … the students are looking at next year, not having a qualified science teacher in the classroom with them.”
During public comment period at Tuesday’s assembly meeting, Ninilchik resident Debbie Cary said the declining enrollment is caused by families moving out of the area due to lack of employment and students moving over to homeschooling. While Ninilchik is losing teachers to declining enrollment, the school is also losing students because of a lack of teachers which creates a cycle, she said.
“While I’m fully aware of the reduction in staff due to the declining enrollment in Ninilchik, I also realize that if the borough doesn’t fund to the cap, it leaves very little leeway for the school district to address problematic situations like what is happening in Ninilchik,” Cary said.
In response, Borough Mayor Mike Navarre explained that decisions about staffing are solely at the discretion of KPBSD.
“They’re doing a great job throughout our school district, in part, because they have the resources to do it,” Navarre said. “We’ve seen a number of messages already encouraging us to provide full funding or funding to the cap. I’ve responded to the ones I’ve seen, referencing the financial situation that the state finds itself in and that it has a direct correlation to the borough budget and our ability to fund things, both in the short and long term.”
With the reductions that the borough has already seen at the state level, and the additional reductions that Navarre expects given the financial and economical situation the state is in, he said that funding to the cap would “almost certainly” require an increase in the mill rates set annually by the assembly, municipalities and service area boards.
“We’re going to do what we’re required to do,” Navarre said. “That is, scrutinize what the school district submits to us, have discussions with them and figure out what we can do to make sure that we continue to have a great education.”
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