Plant closure could affect schools

Posted: Thursday, February 17, 2005

 

  Destiny Ables, Amanda Fruichantie and U-nonda Yoopiam work on an algebra project in a class at Kenai Central High School. Declining students would mean declining revenues for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. Clarion file photo by M. Scott M

Destiny Ables, Amanda Fruichantie and U-nonda Yoopiam work on an algebra project in a class at Kenai Central High School. Declining students would mean declining revenues for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

Clarion file photo by M. Scott M

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District officials have braced themselves for the shutdown of Agrium's North Kenai fertilizer plant Oct. 31 and the loss of jobs and students it will likely entail. The plan is to react in a calm, factual manner as the community responds to the change.

Superintendent of Schools Donna Peterson said no one can precisely estimate what the impact will be, which is why the school district will proceed cautiously.

Peterson said the "what if" questions circulating throughout the Kenai Peninsula all come back to how the schools will respond, because the district employs and affects a large number of people.

"Our job as a school is to respond to the needs of the community," Peterson said.

The McDowell report, an independent study on the facility's shutdown, outlines the impact. The report states there are 244 children of school age, and based on state base allocation funding, borough and federal revenue, the average per student contribution to the district is $7,827. At the extreme, this could account for a total loss of $1.9 million to the district.

However, the school district reports there will only be approximately 138 school kids impacted directly.

Peterson said no one school will be singled out or hit with losses heavier than others.

"The 138 kids are spread out relatively evenly among schools in Soldotna, Kenai and Nikiski," Peterson said. "We have the best read of what is going on, and a piece of that is the leadership team here at the central office. We also bring in the principals for the feedback and double check our numbers. They will be key in figuring out what is going on within the schools."

Though Peterson and her team at KPBSD is prepared for adjustments, little is for certain.

"What can we predict? Nothing right now. This is tedious work, and all we can do is make our best guess. ... The scenario is to predict our enrollment for next year conservatively," she said.

KPBSD Chief Financial Officer Melody Douglas said the district is being careful with estimations.

"This is unfortunate on a myriad of levels. We're just in a holding pattern here and being careful," Douglas said. "Even if we thought we were going to have massive layoffs it would be too late because we have already made the decision not to layoff tenured teachers."

She said as the situation unfolds, the district can make better predictions about the coming year.

"One of the most interesting things is the vendors and contractors who work with Agrium which will also play into this. We know those people. They are not numbers. They're people to us," Douglas said.

Along with possible changes in funding, the school district also must be prepared for the psychological impact.

"People are wondering about the unknown. People get anxious about it," Peterson said. "It's human nature — people have active minds. We are in the ongoing mode of keeping things calm because there are so many unknowns. We just try to let people know that this is a situation we can handle," she said.

Commissioner of Education of Alaska Roger Sampson said the economic impact of Agrium's shutdown is substantial.

"These are high-paying jobs, and there are a lot of them them," Sampson said.

Sampson said there is "no provision where the state of Alaska could provide financial assistance to the school district," in this type of situation.

"In years past, there was an old provision that allowed state help to soften the blow of some drastic loss to the community. We no longer have that," he said.

Peterson said she and the school district will maintain the role of giving kids a safe place to get an education.

"Public school's role is to make sure every child has the opportunity to pursue their dreams," she said.



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