At Tuesday's meeting, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly passed Resolution 2003-130, which will allow for a mail-in election to approve a tax plan to fund school district cocurricular activities.
School activities budgets, already slashed as the school district deals with an ongoing budget crunch, may be altogether eliminated in the future should another means of funding them not be found.
Kenai Peninsula students very nearly lost their activities this year. Only a last-minute restoration of state funding kept pink slips from going out to all the peninsula's sports team coaches and forcing the end of high school activities as we know them.
If no new source of funding is made available by borough voters, activities funding will continue to be in jeopardy. Admittedly, dropping cocurricular activities would drastically change my job as a local sports reporter, but this is about more than my own job security.
So, to borrow a sports metaphor, the ball is in the borough voters' court. Before voting, borough residents should take a good look at the importance of activities -- not just high school sports, but music, drama and art, and at all grade levels -- as they consider whether the proposed tax increase is worth it. The tax increase is likely to be a half-mill, which works out to $50 a year for a $100,000 home.
At the assembly meeting, some argued that adequately funding education was the state's responsibility. If the state isn't going to step up with necessary funding, we should suffer those consequences, slashing budgets for everything except the core curricula, rather than picking up the slack.
There's a big problem with that logic. The current administration demonstrated last year that fully funding education doesn't mean the same thing in Juneau as it does on the Kenai Peninsula. A state as wealthy as ours should be doing a better job of adequately funding education, but the folks in Juneau haven't been able to figure out how to get that done.
As citizens, isn't it our prerogative and civic responsibility to decide how much we're willing to spend on our public schools? Isn't that government of, for and by the people in its most basic form? Just because the state can't fulfill its obligation to fully fund education, does that mean we should abdicate that responsibility at the local level?
The borough assembly has given Kenai Peninsula voters more than just the opportunity to adequately fund cocurricular activities. Voters also have a chance to let the legislature know just how important the quality of our schools is to us. The legislature may not be willing to pay a little extra to ensure our kids have a top-notch educational experience, but the Kenai Peninsula can show it is willing to go the extra mile for children.
It's important to note that the district considers activities to be cocurricular, or meant to complement and enhance the classroom curriculum, as opposed to extracurricular, or things considered to be outside of the course of study necessary to a good education.
Participation fees already are too high and limit students' access to a well-rounded education. It costs $100 to run cross country and $150 for football and basketball. That's before purchasing training shoes, spikes, cleats, pads, skates and whatever other sundry items are needed to make it through the season.
Should the 70 percent of the district's students who'd like to participate in activities simply be expected to pony up their permanent fund dividend checks each year? That's what it's coming to.
These high participation fees don't even cover all expenses incurred during a successful season. Cocurricular travel budgets have been eliminated. There already have been peninsula teams unable to travel to competitions this year because they couldn't afford to get there, even though they paid $100 or $150 to participate in that activity.
If we're not doing activities right, is it worth doing them at all? That answer comes from a school board member at the assembly meeting, who said that if borough voters are unwilling to fund activities, the school board would have trouble including any activities money in its budget.
Is it fair to our students to continue to send conflicting messages, that we value cocurricular activities, but not enough to pay for them? That we value a well-rounded education, but not enough to send a message to Juneau by taking responsibility for providing that well-rounded education ourselves?
In the education funding fights, there's always someone to blame. It's time for the voters of the Kenai Peninsula Borough to rise above that fruitless game and take responsibility for the education of the borough's children.
This column is the opinion of Clarion reporter Will Morrow. Comments can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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