Activities ball in assembly's court

Task force plans to request $250,000 Band-Aid from borough

Posted: Friday, April 28, 2000

If the sales pitch of two Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly members is successful Tuesday, the assembly will make the large cuts to the activities budget for the 2000-01 school year disappear.

At the assembly meeting Tuesday in Seward, assembly members Drew Scalzi and Paul Fischer will ask for about $250,000 from the borough for activities in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District next year.

The $250,000 would be money outside the cap that state law puts on how much money the borough can give to the school district's budget. Currently, the borough gives the school district all of the money that the cap allows.

According to Scalzi, state law allows the borough to fund things like building maintenance and extracurricular activities outside the cap. In the past, however, school district activities have been funded with money from within the cap.

School board member Dr. Nels Anderson said the cash-strapped school district would welcome the additional funds.

"Any cut we have made has been an unkind cut," Anderson said of this year's school budget process. "It's not that the cuts we're making at this point are making the school district leaner and better.

"All the cuts we've had to make have had an adverse effect on the schools. We ran out of fat to cut a long time ago."

In the school budget already passed by the borough assembly and the school board, activities money for 2000-01 was cut by $257,000, or about 20 percent.

The effects of those cuts, among other things, would have been a 50 percent increase in activities fees to $150 for some high school sports, elimination of high school and middle school borough tournaments, elimination of stipends for high school yearbooks and elimination of stipends for intramural elementary sports.

Scalzi said funding the $250,000 outside the cap makes sense because the borough has the ability to pay right now, while the school district does not.

"We're fiscally sound right now," he said. "We'll probably lower the mill rate this year, and that will be the third time that's happened in the eight years I've been on the assembly."

Scalzi also is optimistic the assembly will support the plan to fund activities for next year.

"The assembly very much supports activities and athletics," he said. "Everybody knows the value of extracurricular activities."

The plan to spend the $250,000 on activities outside the cap came from the Student Activities Task Force meeting Thursday at the Borough Building in Soldotna. About 12 members of the public attended.

The task force, a group of 10 made up of school board members, assembly members, high school principals, district administrators and borough mayoral appointees, was formed in response to the sweeping cuts facing activities in the school district.

If the assembly comes through with the $250,000, the task force will have found a short-term solution to the activities budget problem. However, the $250,000 from the assembly will do nothing to address a long-term solution.

"It's a deep wound and this is a Band-Aid," said Dale Sandahl, the facilitator of the task force. "I think what it does is buy time for one more year.

"Somebody needs to take a very serious look and come up with a long-term solution."

Anderson agreed, noting there is no end in sight to the budget cutting the school board must do on a yearly basis.

"I can't even think of any wiggle room anymore to draw from," Anderson said. "I don't think a lot of people really realize that we're in a crisis situation.

"We've been coming up with mirrors and rabbits that make things work."

The one step the task force did take toward a long-term solution Thursday was agreeing that all of the funding for activities should be moved outside of the cap on a permanent basis.

If all activities were funded outside the cap, the school district would not have to make the decision each year between taking teachers out of the classroom or cutting more activities money.

Scalzi said the maintenance of schools is done outside the cap for precisely that same reason.

"The reason we fund maintenance outside the cap is that there doesn't have to be a decision each year about whether to paint a building or keep teachers in the classroom," Scalzi said. "In the same vein, right now they're juggling whether to buy more footballs or desktop computers."

The immediate problem presented by putting activities completely outside the cap is coming up with the money. The school district spent about $1.4 million on activities this year and there is no assurance that the borough will have the money, or want to spend the money, to fund activities outside the cap.

Some fund-raising ideas batted around at the meeting Thursday included setting up a nonprofit foundation to fund activities, or shifting the responsibility for some activities from the school district to community parks and recreation departments.

The activities task force will continue to discuss the issue Thursday at the Borough Building from 2 to 4 p.m.

"I get excited by a long-term solution," Sandahl said. "I think a long-term plan is key.

"Hopefully, we'll get the Band-Aid (from the assembly) and we can continue to work for a long-term solution."

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