The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District continued to search for ways to keep offering its students a full palette of activities in spite of a tight budget Friday as two task forces met at the Borough Building in Soldotna.
In the realm of activities, the school district finds itself between a rock and a hard place.
The "rock" would be the continuing public demand for the district to offer expanded activities. A recent request by a Homer baseball and softball group to fund its own district program and the late 1990s addition of soccer are two examples of the increasing activities fare on the district's plate.
The "hard place" would be the diminishing activities budget of the district. The activities budget has gone from an excess of $3 million in the 1980s to about $1.35 million this year.
The two task forces -- the Student Activities Task Force and the Outsource Funding of Student Activities Task Force -- met Friday in order to try and make the district's position between the rock and hard place a little more comfortable.
Student Activities Task Force
The Student Activities Task Force was formed in April 2000 in order to find short- and long-term solutions to the economic problems facing activities.
The group found a short-term solution last year when it got the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly to funnel this year's activities budget $257,000 through a district technology program.
Without that $257,000, the school district would have had to, among other things, increase student activities fees for this year by 50 percent and eliminate borough tournaments.
A long-term solution proved much more difficult.
Near the end of last year, the task force sparked a statewide movement to try and get the state Legislature to come up with separate and additional funding for student activities.
The idea got support from the Alaska School Activities Association, the Alaska Association of Secondary School Principals and the Alaska Association of Student Governments.
However, the idea lost steam and died when it did not win widespread acceptance from the Alaska Association of School Boards, the Alaska Association of School Business Officials and the Alaska Association of School Administrators.
The task force also investigated having the borough take over operations of things like swimming pools from the district, thereby saving the district money. However, the group found for such a transfer to take place the borough needs recreational powers. It does not have those powers.
With those two ideas stuck in the mud, Friday the task force made a recommendation on a long-term solution by returning to what worked for it in the short term -- getting money for activities from the borough.
The task force disbanded Friday after making the recommendation that the school board and borough assembly come to an agreement on recording student activities separately in a special revenue fund.
Patrick Hickey, a task force member and a school district superintendent in charge of operations and business management, said the purpose of the special revenue fund is to set up a mechanism for occasions, like last year, when the district needs more money for activities from the borough.
State law puts a cap on how much money the borough can give to the school district's budget. The borough has traditionally given the school district all of the money that the cap allows.
Last year, even with the borough funding all the way to the cap, the district would have had to make the widespread cuts to activities if the borough hadn't funneled it the additional $257,000 outside the cap.
Was this legal? None of the task members Friday were ready to assert that it is or is not legal.
"Juneau's doing it, so it's being done," said school board and task force member Dr. Nels Anderson of funding activities outside the cap. "The Commissioner of Education doesn't want to ask that question."
The special revenue fund does not guarantee the school district will request funding outside the cap for student activities. In fact, this year Anderson said the district is expecting additional money from the state Legislature. If that money comes, the district won't need funding outside the cap for activities.
"We've already made Draconian cuts to services and the classroom and we aren't willing to go any further," Anderson said. "Every two or three years, with increasing salaries and benefits, there's a bump we need to get over.
"If that trend continues, we would need funding outside the cap for activities in the future."
The special revenue fund also doesn't guarantee the borough will fund activities outside the cap when the school district needs it to. In fact, as Hickey noted, the borough doesn't even have to fund the school district up to the cap.
"We've had a great relationship with the borough in the past and we're hoping that will continue," Anderson said.
Another advantage of the special revenue fund is it could potentially eliminate the "teachers vs. football coaches" argument that is now part of the school district budget process.
The borough assembly works with the school district on the district's budget. If the school district knew it would be bumping up against the cap, it could get assurances that the borough would fund the special revenue fund beyond the cap.
Since the special revenue fund would be restricted for the purpose of funding student activities, the "teachers vs. football coaches" argument would disappear.
However, task force members agreed the argument could re-emerge if the borough decided not to fund activities outside the cap.
Chris Moss was the only borough assembly member at the task force meeting. He said he didn't see a problem with creating the special revenue fund, but said he couldn't speak for the whole assembly.
Outsource Funding of Student Activities Task Force
This task force was created in mid-February in response to a Homer baseball and softball group wanting to fund their own district activity.
Although the Homer group sparked the task force, the task force was not formed solely for the Homer group. It aims to set up a process of outsourcing, or delivering co-curricular activities by using money and people provided by groups other than the district, so any group can do it.
With the decreasing activities budget and increased demand for activities, an outsourcing process could provide the district a money-saving way of adding activities.
However, as the task force found out Friday, an outsourced activity would not be a free activity to the district.
At Friday's meeting, the task force discussed a legal brief prepared by Andrena Stone, an attorney for an Anchorage firm the district uses, regarding some issues raised by outsourcing activities.
According to the legal brief, the district will have to overcome at least three potential snags.
n Supervision -- The Alaska School Activities Association outsourcing procedures say the host school must have an administrator or designee in attendance.
While task force members agreed this language was unclear, the school board's policy on district activities is clear: "District sponsored activities shall be ... supervised by the building administrator."
Todd Syverson, a task force member and the school district's assistant superintendent for human resources, is concerned about giving administrators another task.
"The three hours at the event is not the administrator's only involvement in activities," said Syverson, a former principal at Soldotna Middle School. "There's dealing with eligibility, kids not starting and angry parents.
"If the school's name is on the uniform and something bad happens, the administrator will have to deal with it."
The problem, Syverson said, is with all the other activities and things like the high school qualifying exam, administrators are overburdened already.
"What I'm hearing is, 'We can't take any more,'" Syverson said. "They're getting burned out already.
"We'd like to see a turnover every five to eight years, but currently they turn over every three years."
Steve Pautz, an assistant principal at Seward Middle-Senior High School, said he e-mailed administrators asking them about outsourcing and got only one response.
Syverson said he would ask the Kenai Peninsula Administrators Association for suggestions on how to make outsourcing possible.
n Collective bargaining concerns with teachers -- According to Stone's memo, another area the district needs to clear up is how outsourcing relates to the current contract the district has with teachers.
"Bargaining issues, and especially their outcomes, are very difficult to predict at this early stage," Stone wrote. "If the (district) is not employing any of the individuals needed to coach the outsource team, then labor relations may be nonexistent.
"However, whether labor disputes arise often depends upon whether or not a union is supportive of a new direction in (district) services."
Syverson said he would ask for input on outsourcing from the Kenai Peninsula Education Association, which represents teachers, and the Kenai Peninsula Educational Support Association, which represents district support personnel that are not teachers.
n Title IX concerns -- There is concern among some task force members that outsourcing could eventually force the district to pay for more programs because of Title IX.
According to Stone, "Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in athletic programs and mandates that schools provide equal athletic opportunity to members of both sexes."
Stone said there is a possibility that Title IX could become a problem for the district if it approves an outsourced program for boys without a corresponding activity for girls.
Pautz said this could be solved by making sure the outsourcing contract stipulated that the group provide opportunities for both sexes.
Much more troublesome to some task force members was Stone's assertion that the "approval of an outsourced activity at one site could result in a mandate that the activity be provided at another site."
At this point, the district does not want to have to pay for additional programs.
"I just think we have to be really careful," task force and school board member Joe Arness said. "(Title IX) could be used as a crowbar two or three years down the road that we would have no control over."
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