Rally for school funding draws crowd

Posted: Sunday, May 05, 2002

Hundreds of peninsula residents stood up for education Saturday at Soldotna High School.

About 300 people turned out for "Stand up for Schools," a statewide event organized by the Alaska chapter of the National Education Association. Rallies were held Saturday at schools from Juneau to Kotzebue, with the main point of emphasis being that the state needs to increase spending on education by $37.2 million dollars.

The Soldotna event featured guest speakers, music, free hot dogs and plenty of good spirits. Educators and the public were trying to send a positive message to Juneau that the community supports funding for education, according to Kenai Peninsula Education Association President Hans Bilben.

"(Legislators) can only ignore so many people for so long. Then they have to take action," Bilben said.

Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey, himself a teacher at Skyview High School, told the crowd that education on the Kenai Peninsula must continue to be of the highest priority.

"One of the most often mentioned reasons for people wanting to live on the Kenai Peninsula is the quality of education which has been supported and provided in our schools. That must continue as we move into this new century," Carey said.

Also available at the rally was a letter-writing campaign for people to send a message to lawmakers in Juneau. People gathered around a small table, filling out postage paid postcards with messages urging legislators to put more money into education.

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District member Margaret Gilman spoke to the crowd, urging support for legislators in the House who have already taken a stand on increasing state revenue through a combination of new taxes and tapping permanent fund reserves.

"We need a state budget that is not based solely on the price of oil," Gilman said. "It's time to put our money into education, into the future of this state."

Following the speakers, as well as a song by Soldotna Middle School teacher David Boyle and his daughter, Keeley, the enthusiastic crowd embarked on a two-mile walk through Soldotna.

Dressed largely in matching black sweatshirts reading "Stand up for Schools," hundreds of sign-carrying educators, parents, students and schools support staff walked through the city, urging passing motorists to honk their horns in support of funding education.

Bilben said he was pleased with the large group of people who showed up to support education.

"It's just nice to see people come out. Standing up for schools is a worthy cause," Bilben said. He extolled the virtues of area teachers and said he hopes lawmakers will see how strongly teachers and the community feel about education.

"We've got the foundation. All we've got to do is make sure we can keep these good people," he said.

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