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School debate: 1 building or 2?

Consolidation, budget issues expected to draw crowd at meeting tonight

Posted: Monday, April 21, 2003

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education will tackle two major issues at its regular meeting tonight. A plan to consolidate schools and the district's fiscal year 2004 budget -- both of which have been controversial topics throughout the school year -- will receive additional discussion at the meeting.

The consolidation plan, which received tremendous negative feedback from area communities, has been significantly revised since it was first introduced to the board in January.

"Though 'softened' with phrases such as scheduling community conversations, informing all that no action was scheduled yet, and continuously stating that the job of KPBSD administration and the (board of education) was to look to the future, the emotionally charged discussions, e-mails and public response to that report was huge," reads the introduction to the revised plan.

The most immediate effect of the revised plan is the consolidation of North Star and Nikiski elementary schools by the fall of 2004. Though each building is designed to hold 500 students, the total enrollment of the two schools will be just over 400 -- combined -- in the fall. Closing one of the schools will save the district an estimated $250,000 a year without causing teacher layoffs or overcrowding, Superintendent Donna Peterson said during a community meeting in Nikiski earlier this month.

Despite the potential cost savings, a group of Nikiski parents are opposing the consolidation and recommending the buildings be reconfigured into kindergarten-through-third and fourth-through-sixth-grade schools. The reconfiguration idea is an attempt to increase student achievement in Nikiski, where test scores seem to be consistently lower than other areas of the peninsula, said parent Holly Norwood during the same meeting this month.

Norwood and other concerned parents have collected signatures on petitions asking the board to keep both schools open. The group is expected to present its petitions and concerns to the board tonight.

"We encourage all Nikiski residents who are concerned with the superintendent's recommendation to close the school to attend the school board meeting, as a closure has the potential to affect Nikiski student achievement," Norwood said Sunday.

Other recommendations in the updated consolidation plan include:

Continuing kindergarten through 12t- grade education a Kachemak Selo, Nanwalek, Port Graham, Razdolna, Susan B. English, Nikolaevsk, Ninilchik, Voznesenka and Tebughna schools by implementing a rotating schedule and possible distance delivery for selected classes, instituting Project GRAD in interested schools and hiring content-area certified teachers;

Encouraging Moose Pass, Cooper Landing and Chapman seventh- and eighth-grade parents to move their children to regional middle schools, and transferring all seventh- and eighth-graders in these schools to Seward, Soldotna and Homer middle schools by fall 2005 (one year later than in the original plan);

Continuing community conversations regarding Hope school;

Providing more direct district oversight for the Youth Detention Facility, Spring Creek, Kenai Alternative and Homer Flex and changing the status of these locations from "school" to "program"; and

Continuing to monitor enrollment at all district schools and restart conversations when "trip points" are reached.

The board is scheduled to review the updated plan during a work session starting at 4:30 p.m. today, and Peterson will make her official recommendations to the board in a report during the meeting tonight.

Any actual consolidation must be approved by the board, and the board is not scheduled to take action on the plan tonight. Peterson has said she does not believe the board will take action at its next meeting, either, as it will be in Seward. She said she anticipates any action on the plan to come during the summer months.

Also on the board's agenda for tonight is a vote on the 2004 fiscal year budget. The preliminary budget originally was presented to the board nearly $2.9 million out of balance. To fix the problem, the district is recommending cutting curriculum adoption, reducing staff in the central office, revising the custodial staffing formula, abolishing the unallocated fund, and reducing cocurricular and supply budgets.

The board will vote on the budget tonight, though chief financial officer Melody Douglas said a revision will be necessary before the end of the fiscal year, both because the proposed cuts are not all feasible and because the Legislature has yet to finalize its education funding. The board is required by state law to submit a balanced budget by May 1.

Also on the agenda for tonight is a presentation by members of the district's Blue Ribbon Task Force on Vocational Education. The task force met in December and again in March to discuss options to continue providing career and technical training to students despite budget constraints. Members formed the Kenai Peninsula World Class Work Force Coalition and developed a plan to streamline curriculum and establish partnerships between the district and area industries and organizations.

All school board work sessions and meetings are open to the public, with the exception of executive sessions. Work sessions are listen-only, while public testimony is welcomed during scheduled portions of the board meeting.

Today's meeting schedule includes a work session at 2:30 p.m. to review the community relations portion of the policy manual; a work session at 3 p.m. for the student representative to the board; a 4 p.m. work session on the Aurora Borealis Charter School; the consolidation plan work session at 4:30 p.m.; a budget work session at 5 p.m.; and the general meeting at 7:30 p.m. Meetings are held in the assembly chambers at the Borough Building, 148 N. Binkley St. in Soldotna.



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