Three principals, five hard-to-replace special education specialists, the district's most senior teacher and a man whose teaching won him a Soldotna community award for youth service -- 34 senior educators in all -- have turned in resignations effective at the end of this school year.
The list was submitted at Monday's meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education.
It was a bittersweet moment for the district.
"We didn't want to see any of our talented people leave," Todd Syverson, assistant superintendent for administrative services, said Tuesday.
The district courted some of the resignations through what it is calling a "service recognition program." Administration introduced the program March 13, funded by a one-time windfall from the borough. The program aimed to reward employees who would be retiring soon anyway with a final bonus of $7,500. They had until March 29 to decide.
In the process, it would save money and reduce layoffs as the district continues its perennial struggle with financial shortfalls.
"It didn't work out exactly the way we wanted," Syverson said.
The district had aimed to have 50 teachers sign up to offset jobs endangered by falling enrollment, expiring grants and ongoing financial straits because school funding has not kept pace with inflating costs. Only 24 certified teachers or principals plus four eligible support workers signed up for the program.
The other names on the resignation list, and other resignations submitted earlier in the year, were due to employees quitting the district for various reasons, including some taking jobs elsewhere.
But even though the resignations will leave gaps in area schools, they are not enough.
"I am looking at having to issue 34 pink slips," Syverson said.
Despite the disappointment, the resignations will save some jobs for younger educators. Thanks to the senior teachers leaving, most second- or third-year nontenured employees will be able to keep their jobs. The resignations also will reduce involuntary transfers, he said.
But the resignations were uneven. Some schools will miss many familiar faces, while others still will face layoffs. Many schools had no resignations at all. The jobs most at risk of getting cut now are those of first-year, elementary teachers at those schools, he said.
On the other end of the spectrum, some schools will lose principals and employees who have become beloved institutions.
Among those retiring or resigning on the new list will be principals Trena Richardson of Kalifornsky Beach, Sue Liebner of North Star and Richard Toymil of Paul Banks elementary schools. In addition to the principal, K-Beach will lose four teachers, Homer High four (including both its counselors), Redoubt Elementary will lose three teachers, Sears Elementary, two teachers and one support worker, and little Razdolna near Kachemak Bay will lose two of its three teachers.
How the resignations will affect next year's budget will not be known until later this month, he said.
Syverson, who used to be the principal at Soldotna Middle School, noted that the list includes the names of band teacher Dave Schmidt and art teacher Terry McBee. He called them master teachers and said the district's students have been fortunate to have people of their caliber.
"Seeing those folks retire last night was kind of an ouch," Syverson said. "I know the excellence they provide for kids."
All present at the school board meeting expressed regrets about the cutbacks and mixed feelings about the resignations. Board members made a point of praising the employees for their years of service and saying they will be missed.
Dr. Nels Anderson, the board president, said the entire process was upsetting.
"It totally disheartens me," he said.
In other school board business:
Budget revisions for both the current school year and next school year were presented. The changes were based on the borough assembly's approval of transferring interest funds to the district.
For the 2002 fiscal year, the payment, including retroactive amounts back to the 1999 fiscal year, added up to about $1.7 million. The new revenue was partly offset by a $54,873 cut in government funding from earlier in the year due to the loss of six students in updated enrollment numbers. The additional money will be used primarily to retire the district's debt from the state retirement incentive program introduced in 1996, the service recognition program, a contingency fund and increased utility costs.
For the 2003 fiscal year, the revenue and savings will be used to lift the salary freeze and reinstate annual step increases based on the current salary schedule.
The budgets remain fluid, especially the one for next year. More revisions are due at the next school board meeting.
Lisa Bote-Phillips, a special education aide at Kenai Central High School, received a Golden Apple Award for meritorious service. The board praised her respect, patience and understanding for her students and her willingness to take on and succeed with special projects.
The education program at Spring Creek Correctional Facility in Seward held a graduation ceremony Thursday. Eight inmates received diplomas. School board member Sammy Crawford, who attended, said, "The prison superintendent told me that for most of these young men, it was the first time in their lives they had ever done anything that the public said, 'Wow, good job.'"
The next meeting of the school board will be 7:30 p.m. April 15 at the Borough Building in Soldotna.
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