Not scaled for economy

Skewed area cost differential leaves district schools wanting

Posted: Thursday, May 17, 2007


  The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has a mix of both urban and rural facilities. Voznesenka School, above, is located near Homer. Clarion file photo

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has a mix of both urban and rural facilities. Voznesenka School, above, is located near Homer.

Clarion file photo

Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of stories examining school funding. Friday’s story will look at the formulas the state uses when determining school funding.

For years, Kenai Peninsula Borough School District employees, borough residents, borough officials and school administrators have provided the maximum local funding allowed by law, yet in large part a skewed area cost differential has left the district’s schools struggling to make ends meet.

The cost differential is a funding formula factor the state uses in its attempt to even out cost disparities between urban and rural schools.

Heating a school with fuel oil in a place like Port Graham costs significantly more than heating a school with natural gas in Anchorage. Providing housing for teachers in remote Bush communities is a cost absent in Juneau or Fairbanks.

Such inequities are supposed to be corrected by the area cost differential.

KPBSD officials as well as legislators from the Kenai Peninsula question why the differential here is 1.004 compared to 1.000 in Anchorage.

Outside the peninsula’s few urban locales — Kenai, Homer, Soldotna and Seward — the peninsula includes more than a dozen rural schools including Cooper Landing, Hope, Kachemak Selo, Moose Pass, Nanwalek, Nikolaevsk, Port Graham, Tebughna and Voznesenka.

For fiscal year 2008, KPBSD is slated to receive $54,614,823 in state aid to be applied toward its $113 million budget. The district expects to have an average daily membership (enrollment) of 9,167.

By comparison, Anchorage schools, without all the burdensome costs associated with rural logistics and with an ADM of 48,634, are to receive $264,513,884 in state aid. The Matanuska-Susitna school district, with 15,535 students, will get $95,108,372.

At the other end of the spectrum, with an enrollment of 1,614, the North Slope school district will get $10,421,737 in state aid.

As costs continue to rise and the rate of state aid coming to the Kenai Peninsula district remains stagnant, some cuts in class offerings have been necessitated, but not in core courses, according to Sean Dusek, director of secondary education for KPBSD.

“The biggest area of loss has been languages ... electives,” Dusek said. He also said the school district had strong marketing and accounting offerings at Skyview and Soldotna high schools, but “electives have taken big hits.”

As a response to what has been lost in the school district, Dusek said distance learning “has really come around.”

“We’re offering a little bit more in advanced placement courses at the senior level,” he said.

Currently 2.6 full-time equivalent teachers are allocated for distance education. At Soldotna High School, advanced placement calculus, English and government as well as A-plus computers are offered by way of the polycom system.

Skyview is able to offer advanced placement calculus and accounting 1 and 2.

A distance education coordinator manages the polycom delivery system and the district’s online delivery program, which offers a cadre of high school social studies courses.

At one time — 20 years ago — co-curricular activities were funded within the school district’s general fund, according to Chief Finance Director Melody Douglas.

“In fiscal year 2003, we discontinued allocating any travel funds (to participate in out-of-distrct activities),” Douglas said. At that time, the allocation for meals and hotels had reached approximately $240,000.

Beginning in fiscal year 2004, the Pupil Activity Fund became responsible for travel expenses, referees, scorekeepers, equipment and uniforms.

“Now the general fund only covers coaching stipends and related benefits to coaches,” Douglas said.

She said in the last 15 years, participation fees have only increased twice: from $50 to $75 and then to $100 for varsity-level activities.

Previously co-curricular activities included sports such as football, hockey, basketball, baseball, track, wrestling and swimming as well as non-athletic activities including cheer leading, choir, band, chess club, drama, year book and student council.

“Today, we’re offering 475 different programs through co-curricular activities,” said Douglas.

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