Legislature needs to increase education spending in borough

Posted: Friday, March 11, 2005

At the March 7 school board meeting the school board unanimously passed a resolution urging the Alaska State Legislature to implement the changes recommended in the recently-released Alaska School District Cost Study Update produced by ISER. If the results of this study were enacted, it could result in an additional $10 million per year to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. To phrase it another way, the amount of state money allocated to educate kids on the expansive, geographically diverse Kenai Peninsula would increase from $ 46.1 million to $ 56.3 million, or an increase of 19 percent.

The premise of this study was to determine what multiplier must be used in order to deliver an equitable level of education to students in Alaska's rural and urban communities. Anchorage is used as the base number to which other districts are compared. Our district administration and school board members have argued forcefully for years that the cost of educating kids on the Kenai Peninsula is significantly higher than Anchorage because our district spans 26,500 square miles, includes four schools accessible only by air or water, three schools not on state maintained roads, 16 schools with a total population of less than 100 students and 16 schools which use electricity or high-cost propane as their heating source. The Alaska School District Cost Update validates that argument by changing the area cost multiplier for our district from 1.004 over Anchorage to a multiplier of 1.171 over Anchorage.

As a school board member, I have had the opportunity many times to travel to Juneau to lobby on behalf of the needs of students in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. Without exception, a priority during each of these trips was to explain to legislators about the inequitable

funding which is provided to our district. Each time I was told to please be patient and wait for the latest area cost study to be completed.

Well, the latest cost study (there are reports dating back to 1984 which all demonstrate the Kenai Peninsula deserves more money and all of them have been shelved) has been completed and the time for patience is over. While the clock has been running in Juneau waiting for another cost study, the students of KPBSD have been losing ground rapidly.

The question is not what would our district do with an additional $10 million, it should be what opportunities have our students not had because our district has been so underfunded for the last 20 years.

The missed opportunities fall into the categories of instruction, exploration and care. Instructionally, our overloaded elementary classrooms make individualized learning difficult, if not impossible. Instead of a rich secondary curriculum full of opportunities for students at all levels, our course offerings have had to focus on only those courses required for graduation. Peninsula students have missed out on the

amazing exploratory experience which a full vocational program geared toward employment-ready graduates would provide.

Our school libraries have been almost dismantled, with few schools having a certified librarian to excite children with the love of books and to teach library skills.

In addition, our students have missed out on opportunities of caring, professional adults who are committed to the students' education. We are at a point of asking principals in schools with less than 200 students to be principal-teachers or hiring only regional administrators.

Discipline problems are forced to be put on hold because the principal is out of the building or in another class. Our school nurses are so short-staffed that many schools have a nurse only one or two days a week. Illness and injuries don't wait, so the overworked secretary must fill in. The examples cited are just the beginning of what would be a very long list.

It is time that all stakeholders of education on the Kenai Peninsula stand up on behalf of our children and insist that the Legislature meet its obligation of providing equitable education to all Alaska's students. Our local legislative delegation faces an uphill battle in this fight, but their position will be so much stronger if they can show hundreds or even thousands of constituent letters of support regarding this issue.

The House and Senate chambers have indicated they would like education funding passed by March 15, so the time to act is now. I urge all parents, grandparents, students, community groups, city councils and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly to express your support for equitable funding for Kenai Peninsula students to our local legislative delegation and the entire Alaska Legislature. If we allow this study to collect dust on a shelf we are sending the message to our students that their education is of less value than the education of other students throughout Alaska.

Margaret Gilman is a member of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education.

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