If Kenai Peninsula Borough School District administrators and board members were expecting some good news during the board’s visit to Homer on Monday, they didn’t get it. Not from teachers. Not from students. Not from parents. And not from peninsula legislators.
Members of the public kept the microphone busy at the board’s meeting in Homer High School’s library. In fact, others were still waiting to speak when board President Debra Mullins of Kenai noted the end of the first segment allotted for public comments on the agenda.
The necessity to deliver a balanced fiscal year 2008 budget in spite of a multimillion dollar shortfall and without knowing what state funding to expect has necessitated the reduction of 60 teaching positions. Another 15 are being cut because of a 2 percent decline in enrollment.
“We have five teachers and we are stretched,” said first-year Nikolaevsk teacher Pavla Tyson. That K-12 school of 60 students is slated to lose two teachers next year.
Natalia Basargin, a Razdolna parent, echoed Tyson’s concerns.
“Our teachers are already stretched,” she said, adding that students are working independently a lot because the (teachers) don’t have enough help.
“You can’t keep cutting at our school because we don’t have enough teachers. Our kids will be left behind,” Basargin said.
Razdolna has a projected 2008-09 enrollment of more than 40 students in grades K-11. It currently has two full-time teachers and shares a principal with Voznesenka School. However, next year it will lose its principal and one of the teaching positions will divide its time between teacher and principal responsibilities, according to Tim Peterson, the district’s personnel director.
“What’s to be cut when there’s nothing to cut?” said Zahary Martushev, whose child will enter Razdolna School in the fall.
Megan Anderson, a student at Homer Flex, was one of several students to voice concern over the loss of programs
“Please reconsider your decision,” Anderson said to the board, handing them a list of signatures from students for whom she spoke.
Mullins told those testifying, “I know a lot of us feel this way. There’s nothing left to cut.”
Earlier in the day, during a teleconference with peninsula legislators, the board asked if there was any financial relief in sight.
“We’re still looking at the education package,” said Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Kenai. Factors that could impact it are relief from the state for public employees and teachers retirement benefits, a boost in the area cost differential or what the cost of education is based on where districts are located, and an increase in the state’s education funding formula.
“We’re running the numbers on different scenarios to see what effect the different numbers have on different districts.”
Chenault hinted there might be an increase in the area cost differential similar to that seen last year, though it would be less than the amount recommended in a study by the Institute of Social and Economic Research of the University of Alaska.
Results of that report released two years ago determined KPBSD was being shortchanged to the tune of $10.2 million. To be given anything less is robbery, board member Nels Anderson said later in the Monday meeting. He questioned how the district could “feel good” just because it was robbed less.
“The courts are the last resort. If we’re not there, I don’t know who is,” parent Ginny Espenshade said in support of suing the state for equitable funding. “We’ve been doing this a long time and getting nowhere.”
Borough Assembly member Milli Martin, of Homer, recalled budget cuts that began happening when she was on the school board.
“It was 1985 when the ax started falling,” Martin said. “We’re in 2007 and there’s nothing left. I don’t think the public’s aware of what we’re up against. The reality is that the education budget is the biggest item (of the budget). It gets used as a battering ram.”
During the teleconference, Mullins asked Chenault what the board and members of the community could do to help push funding for education.
“You’re spinning your wheels if you send people down here to talk about the plight of the Kenai,” Chenault said. “At the end of the day, I think we’ll get there. Unfortunately, it just takes a while.”
Keeping quiet isn’t what the school board has in mind. Nor was that the course of action it recommended to those attending Monday’s meeting.
“Education is the most important gift we give our children and the most important gift we give ourselves,” said board member Sunni Hilts, of Seldovia. “I encourage all of you not to sit back. Write letters to the governor and the Legislature. When there is enough pressure on education, all of a sudden they will think school and education is the best thing around. But we’re not there yet.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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