As the mercury hovered near zero and many Peninsula residents enjoyed the perfect conditions for outdoor winter activities under sunny skies, a group of several hundred teachers, their families and supporters, formed ranks along Binkley Street in Soldotna.
According to Hans Bilben, president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association, KPEA, and a teacher at Skyview, the purpose of the rally was to inform the community and the union membership what was going on with negotiations between the school district and it's employees.
"As employees in this district, we really haven't seen any movement in salary or compensation for about 10 years now. Actually, it goes back to about 1986 when there was a cry of wolf from Juneau and it has gone down hill from there," said Bilben. It is his opinion that the funding for education in our district has been shortchanged through the foundation formula and he wants to encourage public support to pressure legislators to appropriate adequate funding for education.
Herbert Martin, the student representative from SoHi to the Soldotna City Council, stopped by the picket lines to see what was going on and expressed support for the demonstration. "I think the Borough and the school district should start listening to the teachers demands. They work very hard to get us out of high school and into college to get a good education. I believe they deserve raises and better health care and more support from people in the district that they are working for," said Martin.
When asked where he would recommend the additional funds come from Martin said he felt that the legislature should provide a larger amount of money to the districts, but didn't believe that Alaskans were ready to share their dividend checks to help fund education. "Unfortunately, I don't think so, but most people need to realize that when the permanent fund was originally established it was so that the state would have money when the oil revenues dried up. That is starting to happen now, if they do not do something, either take the money out of the permanent fund dividend or impose new taxes, the state will be looking at harder times to come," said Martin.
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