State pinches every aspect of education

Posted: Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Public schools aren't the only educational institutions facing budget cuts as a result of the recently concluded legislative session.

Community Schools programs statewide, including those in Soldotna, Homer and Seward, are preparing to make some changes due to the elimination of their state funding.

Community Schools programs, which provide classes and activities for all ages, were originally targeted by Gov. Frank Murkowski in his initial fiscal year 2004 budget proposal.

The Legislature followed his lead, cutting Community Schools Grants out of the budget completely. And though Murkowski has yet to sign the cuts into law, most program staffers have little hope of seeing the money reinstated.

Area Community Schools programs receive a relatively small chunk of change from the state government, according to Rosie Reeder, coordinator of the Soldotna program.

"Years ago, Community Schools got a huge amount of money from the state and also used to get some from the (Kenai Peninsula Borough School) District," said Reeder, who also coordinates the distribution of state funds to all three peninsula programs. "For the last five or six years, state money has been down to about $32,000 peninsulawide, and we don't get any money from the schools."

At present, the approximately $32,000 a year the programs receive from the state is split between Soldotna, Homer and Seward based on participation numbers. The funding also is supplemented by course fees from participants and limited community grants from area businesses and industries.

Contributions from the three cities also play a major role in funding the programs.

For example, the cities of Homer and Soldotna pay half the salary and benefit costs of the Community Schools employees. In Seward, the entire program is run through the city's Parks and Recreation Department, and the city funds employee salaries and benefits completely.

The school district also supports the programs, though not financially per se. State Community Schools funding filters through the district in a special account separate from district operating funds, and the Community Schools staff members in Homer and Soldotna technically are district employees, though their salaries again come from sources outside the district. The district also provides the use of school facilities for afternoon, evening and summer programs, allowing the Commun-ity Schools courses a place to operate.

It's the support of the cities and school district that will keep the Community Schools program alive as it loses its state funding, Reeder said.

"If (the cities) didn't put money in, there wouldn't be anyone to run (the programs)," she said.

Despite that support, however, Reeder said things will have to change.

"We will have to raise fees, cut a few programs and look for more funding from grants," she said. "It's going to change the way we do business a little."

That means some programs that in the past were free to community members youth basketball, for example likely will require a registration fee in the future. It also means user fees will go toward more operational expenses rather than equipment purchases.

Still, Reeder said she is sure the Community Schools programs will survive.

"Both Soldotna and Homer raise huge money through fees," she said. "People register for classes and keep the programs going."

The director of the Seward program was unavailable for comment this week, but Mike Illg, the new coordinator of the Homer program agreed with Reeder's sentiment.

"We have strong support from participants here," Illg said. "There will be some changes, but I don't think participation will go down.

"We will sustain (the program)," he said.

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