Program readies to turn the page

Posted: Friday, January 28, 2005

Change can make people nervous, especially when there's funding involved.

The Soldotna Community Schools program plans to change hands at the end of the fiscal year, and organizers said they hope they can make the the switch seamlessly while still offering more of the same opportunities currently available.

Since 1975, Community Schools has offered lifelong education courses in cooking, athletics, arts, music, crafts, hunting and fishing. Kenai Peninsula College Director Gary Turner expects the changeover will be practically invisible, as the college assumes responsibilities from the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District on July 1.

"There will not be a noticeable difference in what the program currently offers for six months to a year while we get a good handle on how it works," Turner said.

The need for funding came about as the program experienced a steady decline of state dollars, which ultimately ceased following fiscal year 2003. Borough school district Chief Financial Officer Melody Douglas said Community Schools has been something the state continually funded, but it evolved into a deteriorating situation.

"The expenses of the program outdistanced the revenue," Douglas said.

Turner said Monday at a press conference, "I have requested $35,000 of what I call seed money through the college for the self-supporting program."

Fees and continuing funding from the city of Soldotna and Homer also will support it.

Soldotna City Council member Sharon Moock wanted assurances the council would have some say in where the city's $77,000 annually increasing investment would go.

"We put forward a substantial amount of money here. We need to have a say in where it goes," Moock said.

Turner reassured the council, saying, "Any funding from the city will only support what it already does. City funds will not support the potential expansions. Every dime stays in the community."

He added that taking over the program would be altogether impossible without the financial support of the city of Soldotna.

Turner and Guy Fisher, assistant superintendent of borough schools, presented the plan to Soldotna council Wednesday evening.

Fisher said the only bump in the transition would be that employees of the program would become employees of the college.

"Next month or sooner we will look at the current job description and make minor adjustments. It will be an external search and anyone can apply," Turner said.

Carmen Triana, current lead coordinator of the program, said she plans to reapply for her position.

"I would hope my role would be to make sure the spirit of the program would remain what it has been — by the community and for the community" Triana said. "Part of that spirit also would be keeping the classes affordable and still offering fun, free and safe activities."

Triana said since she took over for former lead coordinator Rosie Reeder in August, her goal was to maintain community support.

"I'm open to growth and expansion while meeting the needs of everyone. I just want to maintain it as the well-loved program it is," she said.

A press release stated that as KPC's Soldotna and Kachemak Bay campuses take on the oversight of the program, the offices and classes would continue to occupy school district facilities free of charge.

"The change will also allow community schools to work closely with local business and industry to meet their corporate training needs," it stated.

Turner said he envisions community schools expanding to include professional education for local work force development with short courses and to help train employees. The short courses could last anywhere from two hours four days for noncollege credit.

"It's a partnership with the community. We feel that providing continuing education is part of our mission. It was the missing link at KPC," he said.

Turner said he didn't want to see the program curtailed, but there needed to be further discussion with the school district and city before anything was final.

"Based on the conversation and passion of the people, it's premature to make any final decision," he said Thursday.

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