A heated exchange during a school district budget presentation leads to a bigger question on the accessibility of the school governance process on the Kenai Peninsula.
The question is, while the district does well to ensure that meetings and work sessions are open to the public, in a district as far flung as the Kenai Peninsula Borough, is there more that can be done to include a greater number of people in the discourse?
The subject came up during a presentation on the 2014-15 school budget in Homer. As reported by KBBI Public Radio, a member of the audience said she was frustrated that her only opportunity to participate in the process seemed to come after decisions had been made, and with not enough time left before the school board needs to vote on the budget for any substantial changes to be incorporated.
According to KBBI’s report, Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones noted the district’s day-long meeting in Soldotna last November during which the public was invited to provide input on the budget. That meeting was not well attended, though.
The school board meets monthly at the borough building in Soldotna, with one meeting a year in Seward and one in Homer.
Additionally, regular school board meetings are streamed online, but work sessions, which are open to the public, are not streamed, nor are they usually recorded.
In situations where meetings or work sessions are not streamed, proximity to Soldotna has become a limiting factor for observation and participation.
Would providing additional access be worth the effort? Would people log on to a streamed work session? If additional public budget meetings had been held in Seward and Homer in November, or held on a weekend instead of a weekday, would public participants have provided anything more to help the district address a $4.5 million shortfall?
The answers to those questions are maybe, maybe not. It is fair to say that the vast majority of the general public will only sit up and pay attention when a decision will have a negative impact in their day-to-day lives.
But for those who do want to pay attention, and would like to participate the discussion, providing better access to the process would appear to be a reasonable request. It might not solve the current budget crunch, but there just might be some contributions that can make the process better in the future.