HOMER -- Kenai Peninsula Borough School District board members are considering the temporary closing of the Razdolna School in coming weeks after an inspection found serious electrical problems in the building.
According to Todd Syverson, assistant superintendent of administrative services, the electrical problems included grounding issues, breaker problems and an inability to turn power off at various locations.
The Razdolna School, located more than 25 miles east of Homer, is in a small Russian Old Believer village. It is housed in a building leased by the district from Alex Basargin, according to district staff. It was built in 1984, said Rick Matiya, director of federal programs and small schools, and was never meant as a permanent facility.
Because it is rented, the district is not responsible for its upkeep, Matiya said. However, there have been complications and delays getting Basargin to fix problems with the building.
While district Superintendent Donna Peterson said she considered the decision an administrative matter, the district wanted feedback from the board on the issue. Responses varied on the idea of closing the school and relocating the students to McNeil Canyon Elementary, as a separate "school within a school," until the electrical problems are fixed.
Board member Al Poindexter of Anchor Point said he didn't think the electrical problems would be difficult to fix and questioned why it had become a big issue.
"This hasn't happened overnight," Poindexter said. "I don't know why, all of a sudden, we have to jump ship."
Conversely, board member Nels Anderson said the temporary move would give students a chance to become familiar with the McNeil Canyon school, alluding to the chance the school could be closed in the future for budget reasons due to declining enrollment districtwide.
Board members questioned whether the Razdolna School, as well as the other village schools in Voznesenka and Kachemak Selo, could ever be brought up to district standards.
"We may not want to look too closely," Matiya said, adding the schools have multiple code issues, despite being built as well as they could have been, given the communities' resources.
Peterson countered that idea, saying the same standard of safety should be applied to all students in the district.
"I have trouble believing that the students of Razdolna have less value than the other students in the district," Peterson said. "We can't take chances with their safety."
The district is considering paying parents to transport their children several miles to a spot where district buses can pick them up. The road to Razdolna often is impassible by vehicle during breakup. While Razdolna Principal Sharon Conley said the financial incentive would be helpful, she expressed concern regarding whether students, especially those in the higher grades, would continue their education if they had to travel to other area schools.
Matiya noted the fragile economic state of the communities at the head of Kachemak Bay as a result of the decline in the fishing industry.
"Most of the Russian families are hurting bad," Matiya said. "Most of the dads are up in Anchorage pounding nails, and most of the people are staying in the villages because they have a school. There's a real possibility they will uproot and go to Anchorage where the jobs are if the schools in any of these villages close."
District administrators said they had not notified the community yet about the possibility of a closure, though they had informed the building owner of the problems with the electrical system as far back as August.
District representatives planned to visit the village Wednesday to discuss options with the community.
Carey James is a reporter for the Homer News.
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