Legislature needs to hear education needs from parents, communities

Posted: Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Last month, I was in Juneau attending the Alaska Superintendents Association Legislative Fly-in. Each year superintendents statewide convene in Juneau to speak to legislators about educational issues. This year, I believe our work with legislators had an impact and was instrumental in their response to the governor's budget (it is not just being accepted).

The only problem is that superintendents are considered to be "suspect," because we are in the education system and people view advocacy with the Legislature as part of our job. My concern is that if there isn't a lot of pressure from parents, employees, etc., we're all just going to have to be satisfied with the "status quo" foundation funding (which actually is a reduction, because the formula is not inflation-proofed).

After more than 15 years of inadequate funding, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has been left with no choice but to do much less with much less and many may not understand how different schooling on the Kenai Peninsula will look in the very near future.

The school board will take action on the budget at its April 21 meeting. In order to balance the fiscal year 2004 budget the district is forced to:

Reduce staff by 56 teachers, three secretaries and 14 custodians, at the least;

Move to a pupil-teacher ratio of 1:19 even in our multi-age small schools (schools with nine grade levels) ;

Cut more than $5 million next year to balance the budget. (If the governor's budget passes as presented, the impact would be an additional reduction of $1 million or more.); and

Move to a pupil-teacher ratio of 1:29 in grades four through six.

While in Juneau, 10 PTA parents from around the state arrived for their annual legislative fly-in, which provided the opportunity for me to share some information with them. The parents called themselves the "enlightened few," because they believe that until people see how things are going to change next fall, they won't get involved.

The state PTA group is planning to do everything they can to get the word out about the lack of adequate educational funding, but the "squeaky wheels" issues that currently are receiving the most attention are the longevity bonus and tourist taxes.

The item generating most of the discussion in the area of kindergarten through 12th-grade education up until this week was the closing of Alyeska Central School (the state correspondence program which affects about 1,100 students).

Legislators need to hear from the masses regarding K-12 education in order to reach the conclusion that something needs to change with regard to funding priorities. Specifically some points for individuals to consider when testifying are:

The importance of restoring the governor's cuts to the K-12 education budget;

Adding money to the base student allocation; and

What an individual is willing to give up in order to pay for increased dollars to education.

During the legislative fly-in, the state superintendents agreed that we needed to find a "hook" that matched with the governor's needs so that K-12 education wouldn't take a back seat. That idea developed into the slogan "Grow Kids to Grow the Economy." We all agreed to the following points:

Education is a state responsibility

The state needs to keep its promises

K-12 education is a sound investment

K-12 public education provides a substantial contribution to the goal of growing kids to grow the economy

All students, high standards costs money

At the current levels of funding, most Alaskan districts are decreasing student opportunities

The formula is inadequate, has been for a long time and students are paying the price; and

Districts need $4,500 in base allocation, inflation proofing and fully-funded state and federal mandates.

I urge all of you to speak out and make your concerns about adequate funding for education known to the Legislature.

Tell them your story about how funding reductions will personally affect you.

Talk to your school administrator and become "enlightened" about the desperate times of the district.

Don't miss this opportunity to be a part of a representative democracy and let your views be heard by the Legislature, especially those legislators in leadership positions or on key committees. Obviously, we hope the Legislature and governor will do the right thing by increasing the funding level for education so that opportunities for students will not continue to be diminished.

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