There is seldom a shortage of people willing to share their opinions with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education. Monday night was no exception with a steady stream of individuals making their way to the microphone in Homer.
“Thank you for staying and giving us your points of view,” board member Sammy Crawford, of Kenai, told the Mariner Theatre audience.
Leading the line to the microphone were Kachemak Selo residents, expressing support for a bilingual program at the school of approximately 80 students.
“The only special class we have is Russian and that is being taken away from us,” said Polly Reutov of Kachemak Selo. Reutov said villagers understood instruction in the Russian language was being cut from 60 to 30 minutes a day.
“It is very important to us to keep our Russian language,” another Kachemak Selo resident told the board, a remark underscored by others testifying at the meeting.
“This is a very big need for us,” another villager said. “Thirty minutes is very limited. We would like to have back what we are losing.”
Twice, testimony from speakers representing the village’s 40 families brought applause from the audience.
At issue is Russian language instructors’ lack of certification, according to Sam Stewart, district assistant superintendent. State law requires teacher certification, but the district sometimes makes exceptions if the tutor or aide works in small groups under direction of a certified teacher.
“In Kachemak Selo, the district has no certified teachers qualified to teach Russian,” Stewart wrote to village parents on March 9. “In light of this fact, the school district is making an exception to allow Russian to be taught by noncertified staff for a time span that is age appropriate.”
The district’s plan is to permit 30 minutes of Russian instruction, with the tutors helping students with academic subjects the rest of the day, which is similar to a program developed at Voznesenka School.
“They have been refining that program over the last five years and have had tremendous results,” Stewart said of the Voznesenka program. “The state actually called us and asked to have them present at the No Child Left Behind conference in Anchorage earlier this year because of their success.”
The ideal solution would be to find a certified Russian instructor that would be willing to make the two-mile hike to and from the village every school day.
“We will be on the lookout for somebody like that, but those are in very short supply,” Stewart said.
Other views expressed at Monday’s meeting touched on concerns about potential teacher layoffs, turning Port Graham School into a one-teacher facility, participation of nondistrict students in district sports, revised policies for charter schools and student nutrition, and visits to school campuses by military recruiters.
“I mind a lot that (military recruiters) are in schools,” said Kate Finn, suggesting recruiters’ visits be limited to career-day events.
Earlier in the day, a teleconference with Reps. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, and Mike Chenault, R-Kenai, gave the school board an opportunity to ask questions about education funding. Specifically, they asked for a progress report on an area cost differential that could mean an additional $10 million for the district, according to a study done by the Institute of Social and Economic Research of the University of Alaska.
Full implementation of ISER’s study would boost education funding statewide by $82.5 million, with the Kenai Peninsula having the biggest increase and Anchorage School District, the largest district in the state, the only district not to receive an increase.
“The cost differential is the 900-pound gorilla. There is nothing happening on that and don’t expect anything to happen,” Seaton said, suggesting the district prepare an analysis of what has been lost as a result of being under funded. “It helps for people to see what the district is up against.”
Nels Anderson, a school board member from Soldotna, asked the peninsula legislators about rumors he had heard that half of the increase is the best the district could expect from this legislative session.
“Is that really true? Why is it that we continue to be mistreated?” he said.
“It’s not about what’s right. It’s what’s politically doable,” Chenault said. “If you want what’s right, you might have to go through the courts to get there.”
Board President Debra Mullins, of Kenai, wrapped up the teleconference by saying, “We appreciate the situation you’re in. That’s why we asked what we can do.
The next school board meeting will be held in the in Soldotna April 3.
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