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March 14, 2002 Alaska Newspapers Inc. calls for more school funding, not budget cuts

Posted: Monday, March 18, 2002

The closing of McQueen School in Kivalina is a stark example of why the Legislature should consider raising new revenue through taxes instead of bringing down the budget ax to close the $865 million budget deficit.

The factors behind the shutdown -- which came Feb. 27 after some teachers complained of assaults and harassment by community members -- were caused by poor parenting, the lack of local law enforcement and inexperienced teachers unfamiliar with life in rural Alaska.

Though five teachers from the staff of 11 have accepted transfers to other parts of the Northwest Arctic Borough School District, state Education Commissioner Shirley Holloway demands a speedy reopening. She also appointed an independent committee to review the reasons behind the closure. Her response is appropriate.

So is the response from district CEO Charles Mason. As a short-term solution, he plans to hire temporary subs to fill out the school year and make up for lost days. It's not a perfect solution, but at least it won't undermine the educational dreams of those students who want to learn.

While it is easy to place blame on a handful of misguided parents and students, it is the state's burden to educate Alaska's children, no matter how challenging that task is.

Now it is the Legislature's turn to step up to the plate.

The long-term solution is infinitely more difficult to come by, but finding an answer is incumbent on anyone with a stake in Alaska's future. That's because the same problems faced by Kivalina are prevalent throughout the state, and not just in the Bush.

Because of skyrocketing insurance costs and limited state funding, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, for example, will cut numerous positions and programs as it seeks to balance next year's budget. Several teachers already are planning to resign.

The problems in Kivalina and elsewhere will grow if the Legislature holds the line on education and public safety, as the legislative leadership has proposed.

With the 2004 deadline for the exit exam approaching, the Legislature should find ways to spend more money on education so districts can find and retain quality teachers while increasing learning opportunities and after-school activities. There is no greater argument for new taxes than Alaska's children.

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