School board supports bills about education

Posted: Thursday, January 08, 2004

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education on Monday approved two resolutions supporting education-related bills planned to go before the Legislature this session.

The first resolution supports a request initiated by the Anchorage School District, which asks the Legislature to include local fiscal impact notes with all bills. At present, legislation must include information on its impact to the state budget. In 42 other states, however, bills have to include information as to their financial impact on local communities.

The resolution cites the Alaska Constitution, which charges the executive branch of state government with a responsibility to "advise and assist local governments" and argues that some proposed measures designed to reduce state spending may pass increase costs to school districts and local governments.

It asks the Legislature to require fiscal notes on all actions that could affect local taxpayers through economic impacts on school districts or other local governments.

The resolution passed unanimously, with board members Sammy Crawford and Sunni Hilts absent from the meeting.

A second resolution required more discussion.

Superintendent Donna Peterson told the board local legislators had asked the district to weigh in on a proposal for early education funding. At present, education funding like the rest of the state budget is approved at the last possible minute. This presents challenges to school districts, which have to complete their own budgets months before the state budget and thus the district revenue is finalized.

A bill expected to go before the Legislature this session would provide approval of education funding earlier in the process.

Peterson said she struggled to write a resolution to bring before the board, as early funding is a controversial topic. In the end, she said, "Our stance has always been early, adequate funding."

Therefore, the resolution presented to the board supported early funding with the condition that the per-student allocation be increased from $4,169 to $4,500.

Like Peterson, board members were torn over the resolution.

Board member Deb Mullins said early funding may help with the budget process, but she said, it also may lead to a short-changing of education in the state.

"I don't know how far to do the good fight, but I'm willing to go to the last day, the last hour, when they're fighting for the scraps," she said.

Margaret Gilman called the resolution a "good marriage," saying she believes it would be helpful for the budget process to have "real numbers" from the state and that early funding would provide citizens an opportunity to hold their legislators accountable for funding decisions.

Sandy Wassilie, however, remained skeptical.

"The trouble with this marriage is that I worry it will end with divorce and the partner we will be left with is the early funding, not necessarily the $4,500."

Board president Deb Germano proposed amendments to the resolution, adding the $4,500 per-student request to the title, making it a one-year-only request and explaining that $4,500 per student would provide the district a status quo budget in fiscal year 2005.

The amended resolution passed 5-2, with Wassilie and Nels Anderson dissenting.

In other action Monday, the board:

Approved a revision to the fiscal year 2004 budget. According to Chief Financial Officer Melody Douglas, revisions within a budget year are common and this is the first for 2004. The revision makes standard adjustments based on the salaries and benefits for employees hired and incorporates the salary and benefits changes approved in last year's contract negotiations. It also accounts for an increase in health care costs, and it takes into account enrollment changes at Soldotna Montessori Charter School, which has almost twice as many students as expected. The revision increases the budget from $75,045,636 to $75,667,914. A segment of the increased expenses will be covered by increases to district revenue, including additional funding realized from the increase in charter school students. To balance the rest, the district reduced the unallocated budget (money set aside without a specific purpose) by $600,000; reduced the 2004 summer school budget by $75,000; and reduced the curriculum adoption budget by $520,000.

Postponed revisions to Administrative Resolution 5125 Student Records which were proposed to meet the requirements of the USA Patriot Act. Wassilie asked a number of clarification questions about changes to the resolution, which would open student records to government investigations. Board member Debbie Holle also raised concerns about the changes, saying, "I'm of the opinion that the Patriot Act is an illegal act ... I don't believe we should comply." Wassilie moved that the board postpone action on the act until the next meeting to gather more information about the changes. The motion passed 6-1, with Holle dissenting because she wanted to postpone action longer.

Approved new teacher assignments for Damara Burnett, temporary secondary school teacher at Susan B. English School; Debra R. Blossom, temporary generalist with the Connections program; and Catherine M. Bethune, temporary Title I teacher at Kenai Alternative High School.

Approved a leave of absence for Jane Ann Finley, school nurse at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary.

Approved a long-term substitute teacher contract for Mary Ellen Summer, special education and resources teacher at Soldotna Middle School.

Upheld the 15-day suspension of a student and declined to rule on claims of equal protection and due process in a confidential student hearing held prior to the board meeting.

Approved a proposal for teacher housing in Tyonek. The proposal, submitted by the Tyonek Village Council, would provide two fully-furnished housing units to be used by teachers at the village school. Assistant Superintendent Sam Stewart explained that the borough would purchase the structures for about $350,000, money that already is set aside for teacher housing and that would not come from the school district. The borough, however, is not allowed to own land in the village, so the village council has proposed to lease the land for $1 per year for 30 years. The plan passed unanimously and now will go to the borough assembly for approval.

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