Some 30 students skipped class Monday to protest the rumored cut of a teacher next school year at Ninilchik School.
Toting signs that read "Keep Kate" and "We want Fjelstad," the students and some of their family members lined the Sterling Highway outside the K-12 school to show their support for English and history teacher Kate Fjelstad.
Despite widespread rumors of Fjelstad's termination, Tim Peterson, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District's director of human resources, said they have not given Fjelstad a non-retention notice.
"So the students at Ninilchik while they were demonstrating did not have all their information," Peterson said. "They unfortunately got misinformation and they responded to it. Those kids weren't going to change their minds either."
Sophomore Kaylee Smith, who participated in the five hour protest said the students were trying to help keep Fjelstad's job.
"We don't even know why this is happening to her," she said. "To hear she could be leaving, we're appalled by it. We're not mad at anyone. We just want our teacher."
Although its uncertain who is getting cut, there will be a staff reduction at the school, Peterson said.
The district intends to eliminate half of one full-time position for next school year.
"I'm working on that right now," he said via phone Monday afternoon. "We don't just cut people randomly. There is a process that we go through. And I do involve the building administrators through the process."
Terry Martin, Ninilchik School's principal, said while the exact reduction is still undecided he does not support any cuts to his already small staff.
"When we have so little staff to begin with everyone means a lot," he said. "There's just not the fat to cut."
He said he does support the students' right to protest and their emotional response to a possible staff reduction.
"We never want students to miss instructional time," he said. "The kids are passionate about it. You like to see that."
Threatened and realized staff reductions are a reality at schools across the district, with changing levels of government funding as well as fluctuating enrollment in rural schools.
"For the most part we go through the same process every single year," Peterson said.
Although enrollment at Ninilchik School has remained steady, he said, a change to federal title funding has forced the district to realize the .5 reduction.
The number of students is what drives the appropriation of money from state and local funding sources.
"When there are kids in your building and there is money available we don't reduce staffing," he said.
There have been small cuts across the board this year, as well as a few new positions.
"I can't tell you across the district how many we might have lost or how many we might have gained," he said.
The school district dipped $3.5 million into its fund balance this year to help fund high fuel costs and negotiated contracts for it's $137.3 million budget for fiscal year 2012.
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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