Ballot issue topic at chamber

Posted: Thursday, January 29, 2004

On March 8, Kenai Peninsula voters will begin receiving ballots in the mail asking whether they favor the Kenai Peninsula Borough directly funding a wide range of school district programs ranging from band to basketball.

Proposition 1 seeks voter approval to allow the borough assembly to fund cocurricular activities above the level of funding currently provided to the school district.

If approved, the assembly would be authorized to raise its funding of such programs by up to .5 mills, or roughly $2.1 million. A half mill is the equivalent of $50 of taxation per $100,000 of assessed property value.

In order to educate the public on the upcoming vote, borough School District Assistant Superintendent Sam Stewart and Kenai Central High School Principal Dennis Dunn spoke at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce's weekly luncheon Wednesday at Paradisos Restaurant.

Stewart said cocurricular programs are vital to the overall education picture in local schools, and that due to the district's current budget woes, may be in big trouble if the measure does not pass.

Stewart told the chamber that if the measure does not pass, there is a real chance cocurricular activities programs not directly related to the basic curriculum, including sports, band and forensics would be eliminated next year.

"It's very likely there would not be cocurricular activities," Steward said.

The deadline for voters to return ballots will be March 30. Although neither Stewart nor Dunn said they could publicly support or oppose the upcoming vote, it was clear from their tone that they strongly believe the district needs some additional help funding its cocurricular activities.

Dunn noted he has three children in the school district, and personally he said he believes in the importance of the various cocurricular programs offered.

"It's extremely valuable and worthwhile," he said.

Chamber members had several questions about the vote, including whether a yes vote would mean user fees for sports and other activities would be reduced. Stewart said if the measure passes, user fees would not increase, and likely would be reduced where possible.

"We'd like to roll them back to the previous year's level," he said.

Neal DuPerron, an aide to Rep. Kelly Wolf, asked whether it would be feasible to cut programs that lose the largest amount of money or to solicit increased corporate denotations.

"We're not about making money, we're about providing opportunities to our kids," Stewart said.

As for corporate sponsorships, Stewart said the current budget actually only accounts for one-third of the total funding for cocurricular programs, and that corporate sponsorships, booster clubs and user fees make up the difference.

The bottom line, said both Stewart and Dunn, is that the district has been operating its cocurricular programs on a limited budget for some time now, and unless new funding is made available, those programs simply will no longer be viable.

Kenai Mayor John Williams weighed in on the subject of school funding as it relates to the state's larger fiscal picture. Williams said the peninsula, and Alaska in general, is in a position where money for a variety of programs is getting tight, and state lawmakers need to find a way to make sure further cuts are not made.

"The days ahead of us are the days we've been dreading," he said, adding the issues facing the school district are a small part of those the community faces as a whole.

Williams said he believes the state needs to look at new ways to fund government, including the use of the Alaska Permanent Fund.

"We have $28 billion in our savings account," he said, noting the fund was originally salted away as a "rainy day" account in anticipation of a time when oil revenues dried up.

"The rainy day is here," he said.

However, in the absence of any action by state lawmakers to increase funding for local schools, Stewart said the district needs to either cut its cocurricular spending or find more money and that's where Proposition 1 comes in.

"We can't afford to wait for the state to step up to the plate," he said.

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