School board members get no answers from trip

Posted: Thursday, February 23, 2006

Kenai Peninsula Borough School Board members were hoping a trip to meet with legislators in Juneau would bring home some answers to funding problems. What they brought back was mixed reactions.

At the Association of Alaska School Boards’ legislative fly-in in Juneau Feb. 11 to 14, board member Sunni Hilts and board treasurer Marty Anderson pressed legislators for solutions to the school area-cost differential formula, the method used to distribute state money to school districts.

While many listened receptively, some showed little understanding, Anderson said in a summery report he read to the school board Monday night.

Anderson labeled the cost differential formula the district’s number one enemy, which is causing a steep decline in revenue.

The district’s revenue will drop 5.9 percent or $6 million, while Anchorage’s revenue will fall by only .5 percent, Anderson said. If the formula were fair, each district’s revenues would be reduced by .5 percent, he said.

Superintendent Donna Peterson said in a previous meeting that the district may have to cut nearly 100 teachers in the next year if additional funding does not become available.

According to Anderson, Fairbanks Republican Sen. Gary Wilken said, “I don’t understand the Kenai, but it sounds like a local problem.”

Anderson said another legislator said the formula may not be fair, and added “but what in life is fair?”

Anderson did say he was pleasantly surprised with the unity with which school boards at the fly-in worked together.

“They really did move forward as one voice this time,” he said.

He said the school boards were less engaged in promoting self-interest and more concerned with the health of all of the districts as a whole than they were last year.

Hilts said no one Kenai Peninsula school board members talked to in Juneau promised assistance, but many did show understanding and concern.

“A lot of legislators said, ‘Well, we do think that,’” she said. “Legislators did speak out a little more for children, and I found that very encouraging.”

School board member Debbie Holle Brown, who funded her own trip to the fly-in, said she returned with optimism.

She said she believes education will continue to be a hot topic and believes there is still “good hope,” but the school board and community need to continue to push for the needs of their district.

Anderson also stressed the importance of community members getting the message out by calling and writing their representatives.

Anderson said legislators told him if the people in the communities don’t contact them, then it must not be a priority for them.

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