HOMER Of the $3.5 million in cuts to next year's budget proposed by the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District administration, those to the Quest program drew the most scrutiny by the board of education at Monday's meeting in Homer.
Board members asked for a detailed plan on the impact eliminating 7.25 teachers from Quest would have on a school-to-school basis.
In an afternoon work session, board members expressed concern about what the cuts would mean for the program, which serves the district's advanced students.
"I have a real problem with this," said board member Margaret Gilman. "We don't even have anything concrete on what that means for Quest."
Glenn Haupt, director of secondary educational assessment, said the district has created a plan of what the Quest program would look like with the staff reduction and would distribute it to board members before their next meeting.
Haupt said the Quest program currently provides varied services from site to site because the programs were developed and integrated into the schools in part by each principal.
"Right now, we have no way to measure what Quest is doing," he said.
Gilman, as well as board member Sunni Hilts, said there is a perception from some that Quest services have not been developed the way they should.
"We need to know how to deliver these services," Gilman said.
The reduction in Quest teachers is just one of a long list of cuts proposed by the district to span next year's budget gap. Initially reported as $5.5 million, the district has now factored in $1.6 million it put in savings last year for retirement benefits and is banking on at least a $94 per-student increase from the Legislature.
Of the other cuts proposed, the largest is the elimination of the cocurricular program, which would save the district $1.3 million.
Superintendent Donna Peterson said if an upcoming vote to fund the cocurricular activities through the borough fails, the district would have to decide what it wants to do with the programs. One idea might be to eliminate all but varsity teams, she said.
"We're not going to cut individual sports," Peterson said. "We've been down that path."
The board discussed possible cuts to the number of computers purchased for the Connections program, the district's home-school program that provides new computers quasi-annually to participants. Those computers are then circulated through the district, keeping the entire system current.
Gary Whiteley, district assistant superintendent, said the district made a commitment to the borough to keep its computers current when the borough provided funding for technology upgrades in past years.
"The assembly was pretty clear when it said don't come back and ask for computers again," Whiteley said.
Board member Nels Anderson questioned why the board was discussing the home-school program at all, noting that the program brings in more money to the district than it uses.
"It's like the goose that lays the golden egg," he said. "It's almost like stealing."
Anderson expressed concern, however, over the 12 percent reduction in supply budgets for all schools except charter schools.
"I'm still having a hard time with this," Anderson said. "Tell me which schools are not going to get toilet paper."
The board will take action on the budget at its first meeting in April but approved a list of administrator and tenured teacher contracts for next year in accordance with the timeline required by the staff contracts.
The board and district staff heard from area legislators in a teleconference and received an update on the education funding legislation currently on the table.
Several plans are proposed, but as Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, and Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, pointed out, it is too early in the session to know which bills will prevail.
Board members, conceding they were "preaching to the choir," reminded the legislators that the district took major cuts last year and needs more than funding to be kept at the status quo.
"The bottom line is, we need more," Hilts said.
Seaton encouraged the district to put something in writing that outlines what the district needs to get back on track, but both legislators said getting substantial school funding passed depends on the Legislature's ability to solve its overall fiscal problems.
"We still haven't figured out the revenue side of things, and that's a big part of it," Stevens said.
The board heard from several community members during its evening meeting, including several who were concerned about class sizes and others who expressed concerns about the quality of today's education.
The board presented Guyline Rogers, West Homer Elementary custodian, with a Golden Apple award and presented the Homer Alaska Youth for Environmental Action group with the Spirit of Youth Award for its work implementing a schoolwide recycling program. In addition, McNeil Canyon Elementary School Princi-pal Pete Swanson received an award for outstanding achievements in visual arts education.
The board also approved the resignation of Whiteley, though every board member said they would have preferred to vote against it. Whiteley said in his letter of resignation that he leaves the position with mixed emotions, feeling fortunate to have worked with the district team, while expressing frustration about the district's financial future.
"I hope that our political leaders develop the moral resolve and political will to fund public education," he wrote.
The board will next meet March 15 in Soldotna.
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