Juneau report has no remedies for school board

Contingent returns from lobbying trip

Posted: Sunday, February 19, 2006

Two Kenai Peninsula School Board members did not return from Juneau last week with a definitive answer to the school district’s budget woes, but are expected to tell the board Monday night that legislators are listening.

Board member Sunni Hilts and board treasurer Marty Anderson participated in the Association of Alaska School Boards’ legislative fly-in Feb. 11 to 14, and met with a number of legislators in Juneau.

Hilts and Anderson are to report on their visit during Monday’s school board meeting in the Borough Building on Binkley Street. The meeting begins at 7 p.m.

“I think what we heard was a lot of people saying there is no surplus money,” Hilts said Friday.

She said the school board members from the Kenai Peninsula did not go to the state capital asking for money, but went to express the budget shortfall situation facing peninsula schools.

Schools Superintendent Donna Peterson reported at the last board meeting that KPBSD may have to cut nearly 100 teachers next year if additional funding does not become available.

“Sen. Ben Stevens from Kodiak listened with great interest; (Rep.) John Harris listened; (Rep.) Ethan Berkowitz was very receptive,” Hilts said.

“Nobody said, ‘We can fix this,’” she said.

Hilts said she did notice some progress in views of the legislators.

When the association of school boards resolved to make children the top priority last year, Hilts said not every legislator got on board.

This year, however, she said she did not hear one legislator who was not dedicated to the idea.

At the recommendation of Kenai Peninsula legislators a year ago, Hilts and Anderson did not meet with them this year.

Hilts said peninsula representatives told them they were already on the side of the Kenai school district, and time would be better spent addressing legislators from elsewhere.

Anderson said it was evident Sens. Stevens and Con Bunde and Rep. Mike Hawker have spent a lot of time studying the problem involving the area cost differential funding formula as it impacts the Kenai Peninsula.

“They all have the will to fix it ... but don’t have a plan for how to do it,” Anderson said.

He said one bright spot is that the entire association of school boards appeared to be carrying the peninsula’s message.

“A dim spot is some legislators don’t even want to address the problem,” he said.

Anderson also said, while everyone is pleased Gov. Frank Murkowski is increasing funding to schools by $90.2 million, not everyone is aware that $40 million goes to the public employee and teachers’ retirement systems (PERS and TRS), $30 million goes to higher energy costs for heating schools and fueling school buses, and only $20.2 million goes into the classroom.

“I did hear one legislator say, ‘It’s not over yet,’” Anderson said.

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