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Schools back on the table

Misunderstanding puts community classes back in district's hands

Posted: Thursday, March 03, 2005

 

  Loraine Larsen, right, teaches Linda Nussbaum how to make a trooper-style hat from a beaver pelt Wednesday night in Larsen's skin sewing class offered through Soldotna Community Schools at Soldotna Middle School. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is looking for another organization to run community schools. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Loraine Larsen, right, teaches Linda Nussbaum how to make a trooper-style hat from a beaver pelt Wednesday night in Larsen's skin sewing class offered through Soldotna Community Schools at Soldotna Middle School. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is looking for another organization to run community schools.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Kenai Peninsula College had the intent to take over the Soldotna and Homer Community Schools program but officially backed out of the plan this week, leaving the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District looking for another entity to adopt the education program.

KPC Director Gary Turner and district Assistant Superintendent Guy Fisher announced the planned takeover at a press conference Jan. 24, outlining a "seamless transition of responsibilities" at the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

The program's intended change of hands came about due to dwindling state funding and limited education finances. KPC would have subsidized the entire program. However, Turner said what looked like a good idea initially, changed as he learned more and reviewed the written agreement.

"It seems the primary focus of Community Schools is recreational programming. They're wonderful activities, but just do not follow with our mission statement," Turner said.

While KPC's main focus is continuing education, Turner said the college would not be a good match for recreational activities like teen dances, basketball and playground activities.

Fisher said the news left the school district with an unexpected dilemma, and a short amount of time to come up with a back-up plan.

"This didn't leave us any time to figure something out for this fiscal year, so we will hold onto it for sure until 2006," Fisher said. "We don't want the program to disappear, and we would still support it with our facilities and classrooms."

He said he is hopeful the cities themselves will take over the program at that point.

Soldotna City Manager Tom Boedeker said if the city chose to take over the program next year, there would be a host of details to work out.

"The city would have to decide whether Community Schools would stand alone or if it would be coordinated with other programs like Learn to Skate and things like that. We have not been unhappy with it as it is now," Boedeker said.

The city's current contribution to the program is about $78,000.

"It's hard to say how much it would cost, it probably wouldn't be that different. The total tax outlay would be similar, but the school's benefit packages are better than ours. There are a lot of details to talk about," he said.

"The plan is that the program will continue as is and transition like it had planned with the college. The idea of integrating the program into the the Parks and Recreation Department is rolling around."

The switch on behalf of KPC left council members and school district officials a little confused. Mayor Dave Carey raised questions about how Turner said the program "would be a perfect fit for our mission statement of community and continuing education," at the announcement to Soldotna City Council.

"What really happened here? We were clearly told that KPC was taking over Community Schools. We were told there was no question whatsoever," Carey said.

Boedeker explained his understanding of the situation at the Jan. 23 council meeting.

"Evidently, somebody wasn't on the same page. The school district was saying one thing, while the college heard something else."

District Chief Financial Officer Melody Douglas said the program will be evaluated now that they have another year to hold onto it.

"This was a surprise that makes us really look at the program. It will be evaluated, and it's very likely we'll have to raise some fees and explore other offerings," she said.

While the financial status of Community Schools teeters on the line between the black and the red, Douglas said more revenue could be needed to keep things running for its year in limbo.

"The city contributes about $80,000, then (Community Schools) runs on revenue from the class fees. It has not raised enough in past years," Douglas said. "There could be increased class fees to cover costs this year. It's the fund transfer we need to work our way out of now."

Carmen Triana, Soldotna Community Schools coordinator, said it was better to find out KPC is not a good match for the program now instead of later.

"There did seem there was a little bit of tension at the initial announcement, I'm not sure what that was all about. Now that we're looking to a slower transition, it gives us a chance to look at some changes," Triana said.

"I'm going to look for sponsors for classes that have been traditionally free. I want them to remain free or low cost to community members."

Triana said she was relieved the program has a good chance of being taken over by the city.

"The feeling I get from the city is that it has a grasp of what the program is all about. They value it as it is. I was uneasy after hearing that KPC would take it over, because I wasn't sure they had a full understanding of what the program was all about," she said.

"I feel like the city council, the mayor and manager are very supportive. If there are cuts that need to be made, it will be things we can all agree on due to the budget constraints and not for any other reason."



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