On Feb. 22, I had the privilege of flying to Juneau with fellow school board members Deb Germano and Al Poindexter to attend the Association of Alaska School Boards' Leadership Conference and Legislative Fly-In.
The purpose of the trip was twofold. First, it was an opportunity to meet with board members representing school districts from across the state and discuss education issues that impact all Alaska students. Second, the visit to Juneau provided a chance to inform legislators about the educational funding needs particular to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.
A brief "snapshot" of the school district's financial picture for the 2002-03 funding year includes the following:
A hiring freeze;
A salary freeze for all district employees;
A reduction in force of 26 teachers; and
A budget that is still $1.4 million out of balance.
As a board member, a parent, a former teacher and an alumna of the school district, this is a situation which keeps me awake at night with worry. I feel there is a strong need to make all legislators aware of our situation. It is imperative the financial support our district receives from the state is increased so we can use that money to put more teachers into the classroom and pay our employees a fair wage.
In two days we met with 24 legislators. In each office we started by explaining the financial picture of our district. This helped set the stage for our proposal, "Leave No District Behind -- At the Cap Circuit Breaker."
Our district is proposing legislation that would reward school districts for demonstrating financial responsibility. We are suggesting that if a district has had flat foundation aid funding for the last three years, local municipality aid at the maximum level allowed by law, administrative vs. instructional costs at the percentages required by law and central office costs of less than 5 percent, then the district would receive an additional 5 percent in state foundation aid. Our district has met these criteria, and if this legislation were in effect, it would provide an additional $2 million to Kenai Peninsula schools.
Another conversation we had with legislators regarded the area cost differential. At present, our district is funded at a differential of 1.004, which means we essentially get the same amount per student to operate schools in our geographically diverse district as urban schools in Anchorage receive.
The district believes that the "Kenai Peninsula as Anchorage" assumption is totally inaccurate.
Our school district is actually comprised of elements more like the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District, Valdez City Schools and the Lake and Peninsula Borough School District all in one. Funding the Kenai Peninsula School District similarly to the Anchorage School District adversely impacts our schools.
In spite of budget cutting and fiscal restraint, the district has a major obstacle to long-term fiscal solvency in the present area cost differential. If the schools were funded more appropriately, using a district area cost differential comparable to the other districts cited, an additional $2.8 million in foundation aid would come to the Kenai Peninsula district.
The general reaction we received from legislators was a concern about spending more money at this time because the state of Alaska is facing a $1.2 billion fiscal gap. However, almost all of the legislators we visited stated that education for Alaska student is their No. 1 priority. Our local delegation definitely is working to ensure that our district sees an increase in state education funding.
So what can you do to help this situation?
I would ask that you call, e-mail or write a letter to all members of our local delegation explaining that you strongly support public education and feel there is a need for more funding to address the needs of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. Our area legislators have even more impact if they can say they have hundreds of messages from constituents who support increased education funding. If we work together as a community, we can provide our students with the support they deserve.
Margaret Gilman lives in Kenai and was elected to the school board for the first time in October.
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