School board to discuss Nikiski schools consolidation tonight

Posted: Monday, June 02, 2003

At the risk of sounding like "deja vu all over again," the Nikiski Area Student Achievement Interest Group wants to increase awareness that the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District superintendent really will recommend closure of Nikiski Elementary School to the school board at tonight's meeting. Refer to item 10b in the planned agenda for the meeting which is accessible on the Internet at http://www.kpbsd.k12.ak.us/board/SchoolBoard/MeetingInfo/BD_PKT02_03/bd_pkt060203/Agenda060203.htm. NASAIG believes a better use of district education funds would be realized with improved student achievement if the two existing Nikiski elementary schools were separated into separate kindergarten through third-grade and fourth- through sixth-grade configurations. This dedication to young primary and later primary education is currently enjoyed by students, parents and educators in the Kenai and Homer areas. This "reconfiguration plan" has been favorably discussed by Nikiski area school site councils for at least five years.

A quick recap of the discussion of closure vs. reconfiguration would mention that the KPBSD administration promotes closure of Nikiski Elementary and consolidation of its student body with that of North Star Elementary to save $250,000 in annual operating costs. This amount represents 8.3 percent of this year's budget gap or even less of a percentage if the school administration is faced with a wider gap than expected. This amount is three-tenths of 1 percent of the total annual budget of the KPBSD.

More than 183 Nikiski residents over age 18 who represent 256 school-age children have signed a petition in favor of reconfiguring the schools into young primary and older primary schools. These Nikiski residents believe that closure of Nikiski Elementary represents a short-range attempt to balance a school budget with the long-range effects of sacrificing Nikiski student achievement. If you haven't yet signed the petition and wish to, look for a NASAIG booth at Nikiski's Fun in the Midnight Sun event June 21.

The final decision regarding closure of Nikiski Elementary rests with the school board. At this point in time, NASAIG doesn't know if the petition represents a citizen's initiative in support of the board's decision to keep both schools open or a document in opposition to the board's decision for closure. My friends, we will all soon know.

A discussion of a preliminary plan to close several KPBSD schools can be found in the Feb. 5, 2003, Peninsula Clarion. The original list included Soldotna Elementary, Hope and Ninilchik, but now Nikiski Elementary remains alone in the closure discussion. In that issue of the Clarion, quotes from school board members imply that long-term effects of school closure were discussed.

Board member Al Poindexter stated "I've always believed that schools have the potential to be a catalyst for social change. When we consider consolidating schools, we're forcing social change. I think it needs to be a local decision, to do the best with what we're able to provide." Board president Joe Arness suggested that consolidation conversations continue in Nikiski if community members were favorable to the idea. Hopefully, the several dozen Nikiski residents who attended the April 21school board meeting sufficiently represented the larger group with school-age kids who couldn't attend and are not favorable to the idea. And board member Margaret Gilman was right on target when she stated that academics need to be considered in any discussion involving consolidation.

No net additional dedicated resources accompany this potential Nikiski Elementary closure. The plan is simply to cram all students into one building and not recognize any tie to sacrificed academics in the form of student achievement. The informational data supplied to the board (and available to you at the above-mentioned Web site) includes a table comparing the physical attributes of North Star Elementary to Nikiski Elementary. Presumably, this table is supposed to illustrate that one school can fit all students. However, the two computer labs listed for North Star Elementary doesn't detail the decrease in per capita computer time that will inevitably result.

And does it really matter if North Star has a larger music room if music education is provided by an "itinerant special" shared between non-Nikiski schools instead of full-time music education? Won't less physical education be the logical result of the time commitment required to feed more students in the gym-lunchroom?

Be that the case, where exactly does the education of Nikiski students become "more comprehensive" without additional full-time staff included in the closure? For the complete and realistic picture, shouldn't this informational table include a prediction of student achievement levels in the 2004-05 school year and beyond?

On a positive note, remedial help in the form of summer school has been offered and is no doubt appreciated as well as necessary to those students who qualify and whose schedules can work it in. But isn't it a more effective use of total educational dollars to teach our children the first time around? Reconfiguration has a better chance at making this possible.

Regardless of what was stated by board members last February, NASAIG recommends that concerned parents access the above KPBSD Web site to write an e-mail to each board member before tonight's meeting. If you don't have access to a computer, then call the board members (Joe Arness at 776-8089, Sammy Crawford at 283-9271, Deb Germano at 235-2538, Margaret Gilman at 283-0860, Debra Mullins at 776-5250, Nels Anderson and 262-3280, and Al Poindexter at 235-1034).

Since it's human nature to think someone else will represent you, NASAIG also wants to remind you that the adoption of district school board representatives (in lieu of the current at-large arrangement) means that the entire board is up for re-election this fall. Ergo, the conditions for an "accountability gap" are ripe. A board member with no intention of running for re-election may be making a decision that uniquely impacts the community of Nikiski for the long term.

Lastly, if at all possible during the busy summer day, try to attend the meeting at 7:30 tonight in the Borough Building on Binkley Street. A body attending the meeting is worth a thousand words. Should you choose to do so, you can voice your concern before a decision is made during the public comment section of the meeting.

Holly Norwood

Nikiski



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