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Borough boosts school funding

Posted: Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District was granted an additional $2 million in funding for the next fiscal year after the borough assembly approved a resolution on Tuesday night.

The resolution, sponsored by Homer Assemblyman Bill Smith and Borough Mayor Dave Carey, increased the school district's local funding from $41.2 million to $43.2 million.

That figure, setting the minimum amount of funding the district will receive from the borough in fiscal year 2011, still falls $2 million short of the $45.2 million maximum that state statute allows the district to receive -- a maximum known as "funding to the cap."

The resolution, enacted at Tuesday night's assembly meeting by a 5-4 vote, came two weeks after the assembly approved a laydown proposal that set the school's local funding at $41.2. Smith co-sponsored that proposal with Nikiski Assemblyman Gary Superman.

Many in the school district viewed Smith and Superman's laydown as a slap in the face, particularly after the mayor proposed funding the school district just $200,000 shy of the cap.

The school district said it would need to eliminate 14.5 teaching jobs, 4.5 custodial jobs, one administrator and two half-time positions to make due with a budget $4 million below the cap.

That's what caused Smith to change his mind, he said.

"We were looking at basically a head-on collision with bystanders that were going to be affected," Smith said. "Rather than wait when it's too late in the hiring process, I wanted to put this resolution forward because I wanted to avoid the collateral damage."

Kelly Reisig, the school district's spokeswoman, said the additional $2 million approved Tuesday night will prevent the district from needing to cut the jobs.

"We will be able to reinstate those positions," Reisig said. "'People first' has always been (Superintendent) Dr. (Steve) Atwater's mentality."

Superman stuck to a tight-belt philosophy Tuesday night, saying the school district needs to maximize its funding efficiency rather than perennially ask for more money.

"It was said that it was really uncomfortable here this year. I'm sorry, but I think this was an exercise that had to happen and it had to happen this year," Superman said. "Some people said that the $4-million cut was an arbitrary number. If we had started at a $2 million cut would the response have been different with the district coming back to us? That whole discussion would have been moved up a level."

Many teachers and school district staff who testified Tuesday night had an opposing view.

"If you are going to tighten a belt, please don't do it around the throats of our children," one teacher said.

Assembly members Paul Fischer, Charlie Pierce and Gary Knopp joined Superman in voting against Tuesday night's increased funding resolution.

South Peninsula Assemblyman Mako Haggerty, who voted for Superman and Smith's fund-cutting laydown two weeks ago, voted for Tuesday night's money-boosting resolution.

"For those of you out there counting votes, I'm going to vote yes on this," Haggerty said, unofficially revealing the body's decision. "I hope I never hear 'fund to the cap' again. It just sounds like rhetoric. It doesn't mean anything. It doesn't mean we're going to get better education.

"What we need to do is fund to our needs," Haggerty continued. "I hope the $2 million that we add to the budget funds to our needs."

Andrew Waite can be reached at andrew.waite@peninsulaclarion.com.



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