Shellie Worsfold takes responses from her fourth-grade students at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School on Tuesday afternoon. She said she fears the larger class sizes that could follow teacher layoffs. Been there, done that, she said. You dont get any teaching done. Youre constantly dealing with discipline and parent problems. Classroom management becomes the priority. She said she was hopeful that the district would be able to respond well to the crisis.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Exasperation and frustration were apparent Monday as the Kenai Peninsula school board continued to wrestle with budget issues for the 2007-08 school year.
“What we’re going to do to students looks awful. I can’t live with this on an ongoing basis,” said board member Dr. Nels Anderson in his remarks at the conclusion of the meeting.
Anderson related to the board the accomplishments of one of his Boy Scouts, a struggling reader who had made a breakthrough in the past year and earned an “A” in reading, thanks in large part to extra help he receives at Soldotna Middle School.
“If we have to cut that sort of thing because of the Draconian cuts we make year after year I can’t deal with that.”
Though the 2008 budget was not on the agenda, the board heard from a half-dozen Moose Pass residents during the public comment portion of the meeting. All expressed frustration that Moose Pass School, a kindergarten through eighth-grade school, will lose a teacher next year. The move is effectively a 50-percent reduction in staff at the school. The school, which has an enrollment of 27 students, currently is staffed by two teachers.
“This would make Moose Pass a one-room school,” Terry Estes told the board. “One-room schools are a thing of the past. ... If we’re not going to invest in the future, that’s very shortsighted.”
Estes went on to relay a comment from her husband, saying he couldn’t believe a state as wealthy as Alaska “couldn’t support an education system that’s better than it was when I went to school.”
Other speakers shared similar sentiments, recounting how they’ve made do after cuts to staff and to cocurricular activities. They asked the board if there wasn’t some way to take a little bit from here and a little from there to save the second teaching position in their school.
The board was asking the same questions in a work session prior to the meeting as it discussed a budget that includes pink-slipping 75 teachers and is still more than $2 million short.
“I’m grasping at straws here, and I’m hoping I catch just one,” board member Lynn Hohl said as she asked district administrators about where more money might be found.
“We talked about anything we could do to make the budget look better. It’s discouraging,” board member Sammy Crawford said in her work session report during the board meeting.
A work session teleconference with the peninsula’s state legislators did not offer much hope.
“What’s going on is not a whole bunch,” Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, told the board by phone from Juneau.
Chenault said covering the increase in retirement costs to the district is in Gov. Sarah Palin’s budget, “but that does not add a dollar more to classrooms.”
The Legislature has not delved into bills to raise the base student allocation or to address the area cost differential.
Board members emphasized they needed to take action on the budget and plan for the proposed cuts in teaching positions in the next month, but Chenault said it was too early in the state’s budget process to give any idea of what additional funding may be provided for schools.
“Unfortunately, it’s probably going to be the last day of the session before we have it all laid out,” Chenault said.
In her closing comments, board member Liz Downing urged teachers and the public to contact their legislators regarding education funding.
“The message I’m trying to give to teachers is, you’re in the classroom, you’re the experts. Our legislators need to hear from you,” Downing said.
“I hope we can adequately fund education and take care of our kids,” Crawford added.
In other business, the board approved Kenai Peninsula School Activities Association outsourcing agreements for baseball and softball at Homer and Seward and softball at Soldotna; revisions to wording in its policy regarding charter schools; and the calendar for the 2008-09 school year.
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