1. What are the biggest issues facing the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District?
Daniel Castimore, District 1: Declining enrollment will continue to be an important issue as it causes a reduction in funding, and can also cause difficulties with staffing. This is the issue at the heart of the SoHi and Skyview High School consolidation, enrollments at Skyview fell to a point that it was no longer in the best interest of the students to maintain two separate schools. When I graduated from Nikiski High in 1998 total enrollment was around 10,000, today it is around 8,800. If this trend continues we will be looking at more school consolidations in the future.
Issues such as health care costs, and increases to PERS and TERS will also impact the future of the district. The impact of the Affordable Care Act is still unknown and the prospect of a tax on “Cadillac” insurance plans could have a significant impact on funding.
Sunni Hilts, District 9: The challenges of a decreasing budget, along with the awareness of what it means and what it takes to see every student succeed, in school and after graduation.
2. What can the board do to address those issues?
Castimore: The board has limited control over declining enrollments. One area that is open for improvement is the home school program. Currently the district is only given 80% of the funding for home school students, and if a student chooses to enroll in a program from another district we receive no funding. Disallowing students to choose another district is currently one of the board’s legislative goals, however I’m not sure this is the best option. Rather than spending time trying to change the laws, perhaps we should focus on retaining these students by offering the best programs. Identifying why so many of our students choose home school over traditional classroom should also be a goal.
Improvements to health care costs may be possible with a more robust employee wellness program. As the District is self-insured any reductions in costs are directly realized.
Hilts: We must seriously address our policies and our finances. We need to evaluate and support our administration in meetings the goals we have set for the district. We must also educate our stakeholders about what the needs, resources and possibilities are for our young people.
3. If you are elected, what are some of your goals for the upcoming term?
Castimore: I would like the board to investigate the use of video conferencing to increase public participation in board meetings. Considering the road conditions during the winter months if we could allow for participation via video conferencing, we may be able to increase public input. I would also like to see all school board meetings and work sessions broadcast over the internet.
Hilts: My goal has never changed. Children should be our top priority. Every child, regardless of ethnicity, culture, income, or school choice should have the opportunity to graduate, and even more, to succeed with their goals. Additionally, I will always try to be a voice to the communities that elect me, and to bring their voice back to the Board and the District. I am also very concerned about the homeless students in our communities. We are working diligently to assist them, but there needs to be more involvement with all the helping agencies on the Peninsula. I hope we can help to facilitate that.
4. The Alaska Star Performance Index recently replaced Adequate Yearly Progress. In what other ways can progress be measured in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District?
Castimore: I would like to see the district measure the number of students that graduate from college, or a technical school, and to track what degrees or certifications were earned. When I attended school the general feeling was that the only option for graduates was to continue on to college. While I feel that college is a good path for many students, without statistics that show how many students actually go on to graduate I’m not sure that this should continue to the primary focus of our guidance counselors.
Hilts: This is a better measurement than we have used, but still incomplete. I would encourage the people of our borough to visit schools, to see and hear the success that is happening. There are amazing stories happening that are not measured by scales and graphs. They are demonstrated by progress—not always as much as we would wish, but significant nonetheless. Lives are being changed. Communities are being energized. Progress is being made on a human and personal level.