Assembly ups funding for schools: Amendment to borough mayor's budget proposal passes on a close vote

Posted: Thursday, May 07, 2009

The borough school district can breathe a sigh a relief -- for now.

After more than an hour of public testimony and a lengthy discussion among its members, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly at its meeting in Seward voted Tuesday to fund education fully.

"It's doing the right thing," said Assemblyman Hal Smalley. "It's not a bragging right issue, it's not because of tradition, it's what's right."

"We can afford it," said Assembly Vice President Pete Sprague. "I really believe that the increase of funds is necessary."

The debate came after Seward Assemblyman Ron Long proposed an amendment to Resolution 2009-040, determining the amount to be provided to the school district from local sources for fiscal year 2010. Borough Mayor Dave Carey proposed a $40 million budget for the district, about $3 million less than requested. Long proposed adjusting the dollar amounts in the resolution to fund to the cap, the maximum amount local government may contribute to the school district budget according to state statute.

Not all assembly members were in agreement with Long.

"I think I'm being shortchanged," said Assemblyman Paul Fischer, of Kasilof. He said he needs more information before voting to fund to the cap.

Kenai Assemblyman Gary Knopp, too, said he needs more information from the district.

"How long do you think we can afford to fund to the cap?" asked Assemblyman Gary Superman, of Nikiski.

Superman said this year and possibly next year the assembly will have the funds to fund education fully.

"At some point, something's got to give," he said.

Superman said he wished he didn't have to vote against the amendment but an effort needs to be made now to protect the future. He said a tax cap is likely to be enforced in the near future.

"Next year is next year," Long said. "Next year shouldn't be deciding this year's budget level."

"It's incredible to me what we have lost," said Assembly President Milli Martin, citing the decrease of programs over the years such as auto shop, welding and art classes. Martin, who served on the school board in the 1980s, said the cuts began when the cost differential was implemented.

She said a district that has 44 schools spread out over 25,000 square miles can't be expected to provide education as efficiently as Anchorage.

"It's moved pretty fast for me," said Sterling Assemblyman Charlie Pierce. "I don't understand it and I want to understand it. I want to understand the numbers."

Pierce, like Fischer and Knopp, said he would like more information before making a decision on funding to the cap.

The amendment passed on a five-to-four vote. The no votes were cast by Knopp, Pierce, Superman and Fischer. The resolution also passed on a five-to-four vote with the same four assembly members opposed.

The resolution in question pertains only to education, setting the lowest amount the assembly can give to the district. As it stands now, education will be funded to the cap.

Mayor Carey can veto the resolution but must do so before the next meeting, scheduled for May 19 in Soldotna. The assembly can override his veto, needing at least six votes to do so.

Mike Nesper can be reached at mike.nesper@peninsulaclarion.com.



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