Plan calls for 1 elementary in Nikiski starting in fall 2004

Posted: Sunday, June 01, 2003

After several months of community discussions not to mention protests the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education will vote Monday night on the consolidation of Nikiski and North Star elementary schools.

Board members will be asked to approve a plan to close Nikiski Elementary School and move all kindergarten through sixth-grade students to North Star Elementary in the fall of 2004.

Though the suggestion has raised the ire of many parents around the peninsula, district officials have been pushing forward with consolidation discussions since earlier this year, when a district report identified school closures, extracurricular activity cuts and pupil-teacher ratio changes as three methods of saving money.

The PTR was increased earlier this year, resulting in the loss of more than 55 teachers and increasing class sizes for the fall. Librarians, as well as music and physical education teachers, are disappearing quickly, and most schools will start the new school year with only basic programs. The 2003-04 district budget also eliminated all extracurricular travel money, and the district currently is considering the possibility of cutting extracurricular activities completely if Gov. Frank Murkowski vetoes the Legislature's education funding bill.

Consolidation is one of the only cost-saving plans left. And despite some parents' outcry, the plan does offer some benefits for students. For example, with more students in a single building, the district may be able to provide more comprehensive programs, bringing back librarians, arts and vocational education offerings.

The district has considered consolidation plans throughout the peninsula and has a long-range plan for several potential closures in the coming years. At present, however, the only schools with small enough enrollments to consolidate are the two Nikiski elementary schools.

Some parent groups have expressed support for the plan, though one group has argued that the two schools should remain open and be reconfigured into kindergarten-through-third and fourth-through-sixth grade buildings. Superintendent Donna Peterson acknowledged that such a configuration may be beneficial, and the consolidation plan would place those grade levels in separate wings at North Star.

However, Peterson said having two half-empty schools simply isn't practical.

At the April 21 board meeting, board President Joe Arness agreed. Though he said he remained open to discussion, he noted, "As a school district, it's hard to remain credible if we have two schools less than half full within five miles of each other and whine that we're broke."

Nikiski and North Star each are built to hold about 500 students. Their combined enrollment is well below that number.

The Nikiski consolidation plan that goes before the school board at its regular meeting Monday would close Nikiski Elementary School and move students to North Star.

That decision was made after district officials completed a walk-through of both buildings April 24. While both schools had their positive and negative points, the newer North Star building boasts better room for special education, private offices for specialists, an office near the building entrance for better security and considerably more district-designated acreage around the facility. Nikiski Elementary also is known to contain asbestos and overall building repair would cost about $1.1 million in major renovation, compared to the approximately $46,000 worth of minor repairs needed at North Star.

The board will discuss consolidation plans in general during a work session at 5 p.m. Monday, and the vote will come during the regular meeting, which starts at 7:30 p.m.

Other board work sessions scheduled include handbook changes at 2 p.m.; the fiscal year 2004 budget at 2:30 p.m.; superintendent and board evaluations from 3 to 4 p.m.; and board districting at 4:30 p.m.

In addition to the vote on the Nikiski consolidation plan, the evening meeting agenda includes:

Approval of substitute teacher contracts, resignations, leaves of absence and new and nontenured teacher assignments;

Adoption of board policy 3513.4 Integrated Pest Management;

Approval of the Co-curricular Activities and Handbooks modifications, which define rules for extracurricular activities and recommend an increase in participation fees to help cover the cost of travel;

Approval of an increase to hot lunch prices, raising elementary prices by 10 cents and secondary school prices by 20 cents;

Approval of the 2003-04 school calendars; and

Approval of Project Grad, a nationally recognized math and reading program designed for small schools.

The public is welcome to attend all school board work sessions and meetings, which will be held in the Borough Building at 148 N. Binkley St. in Soldotna. Work sessions are listen-only. The public is welcome to address the board during designated times at the general meeting.

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