Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of stories examining school funding. Wednesday’s story is about the “cap” the amount a local government can contribute to its school district and how that affects the Kenai Peninsula Borough.
As more and more money each year in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s budget is diverted to unavoidable costs, like retirement payments, insurance and utility bills, less and less can filter down to the classroom or playing field.
Ward Romans, coach of the girls basketball program at Nikiski High School, said he has seen a lot of funding changes over the years that have forced him to alter his game plan.
“This is my 19th year and originally we had funding for girls travel, some for uniforms, equipment upkeep, and the students didn’t pay any participation fee. Now we just get a coaching stipend, with no other funds from the district, the kids pay a $150 participation fee and everything else comes from (gym) user fees, ticket sales and fundraising,” he said.
Romans said this amount of funding makes it difficult to cover all expenses, such as those accrued from the three trips the team is required to make to Anchorage for competitions.
“It’s very challenging. Sometimes you feel like you’re spending more time fundraising than anything else, but fortunately we have a phenomenal community, so we get a lot of support from parents and individuals, and I think our borough and school district do all they can in regard to funding,” he said.
The funding issue also is a problem in the classroom. Debra Hayes, a special education instructor for kindergarten through fourth-graders at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary, said she struggles with the issue annually.
“At this school we’re assigned an amount, but there’s lots of decisions to making that money go the furthest,” she said.
Hayes explained it’s a complex issue because some money must be used for essential items, such as pencils and erasers.
“Everyone assumes all kids are going to show up ready for school, and three quarters of them do, but some just show up, and they need supplies,” she said.
Since Hayes instructs in a specialized area, she can’t buy many of the needed materials in bulk, as instructors teaching general courses often can.
“For my program I also require specialized things, like specific workbooks and educational board games, and these things are very expensive,” she said.
As a result, Hayes said it’s not a matter of if funds will run out, but a matter of when they’ll run out.
“Whatever you have, it’s never enough. When the money’s gone, usually by midyear, I’ll start to dip into my own pocket,” she said.
Hayes said she uses roughly $1,000 out of her own salary to pay for school supplies each year. This may seem exorbitant, but she said she has paid more in other areas she’s taught in.
“In Flagstaff (Arizona), I was spending about $2,500 a year out of my own pocket, so this is much better. I just accept it as part of this profession. The kids would suffer if I didn’t do it,” she said.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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