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School money lawsuit put up to vote

Assembly looks at whether to sue state, give CES money back

Posted: Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is expected to decide tonight whether to pursue a lawsuit against the state alleging years of under-funding of borough schools.

Borough and school district officials have estimated that a multiplier factor called the area cost differential used in the state’s foundation formula to calculate the amount of state funding each district gets is set too low, and that fact has cost the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District at least $70 million since 2001.

That money would have gone a long way to avoid cuts in personnel and programs the district has had to write into its annual budgets during this decade, officials have said.

The area cost differential factor, set at 1.004, compares the relative remoteness of districts compared to the Anchorage School District, which has a differential of 1.00.

The borough school district includes several schools accessible only by water or air. According to a study done by the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER), the district’s differential should have been set at 1.171. Had it been, the district would have received an additional $70 million over the past five years.

Tonight, the assembly will consider a motion that would authorize Mayor John Williams to investigate the legal options open to the borough, and if it’s in the best interest of the borough to file a civil lawsuit against the state.

In a May 2 memo to the assembly, Williams noted that while state lawmakers have increased per-student allotments over the past few years, that increase was inadequate to properly fund education in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

“Additionally, the Kenai Peninsula Borough administration believes that state funding for education fails to recognize the costs associated with providing educational resources to its remote locations, at-risk students, and special needs students,” the mayor said.

Williams said the administration had identified about $100,000 that could be made available to spend on the proposed litigation. If more money is needed, he would seek additional funds from the assembly, he said.

Tonight’s assembly agenda includes public hearings on nine ordinances.

Topping the long list is Ordinance 2005-19-47, which would appropriate $1 million from the general fund to reimburse Central Emergency Services’ capital projects fund for its contribution to construction of the new Emergency Response Center. In late 2004, the CES board of directors agreed to participate in building a new response center in Soldotna and was expected to occupy part of that building, along with the E-911 Dispatch and the borough’s Emergency Operations Center.

However, in January of this year, the board voted to request that they not be required to move into the new building, and that the $1 million be returned to their budget for future use in remodeling their existing facilities at Station 1 in Soldotna.

Assembly reaction to the proposal has been less than enthusiastic.

Mayor Williams has said the office of the Spruce Bark Beetle Mitigation Program would fill the empty space left by CES if the reimbursement is approved. The beetle program would pay $3,600 a month in rent. However, it is not known how long that federally supported program will be funded.

Borough Attorney Colette Thompson has said CES is not a separate entity, but part of the borough, and that, in her opinion, the assembly was not under any obligation to reimburse the $1 million. That money has already been spent, according to Craig Chapman, borough finance director.

Also up for public hearing are ordinances regarding:

· appropriating funding to replace the disinfection system at the North Peninsula Recreation Service Area pool;

· material site permitting;

· amending the tax code to increase the motor vehicle tax;

· amending borough code to exempt senior housing in Ninilchik from real property taxes;

· increasing the E-911 surcharge on local exchange wireless phones from 75 cents to $1.15 per month;

· appropriating funds for fiscal year 2006-07;

· authorizing the purchase of Heritage Place skilled nursing facility; and

· requiring permanent fund eligibility and residency requirements for the borough’s senior and disabled veteran property tax exemption.



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