Future of Nikiski schools debated

Reconfiguration back on agenda

Posted: Sunday, June 04, 2000

Families in Nikiski want changes in their schools, but community trends are complicating the issue.

Parents advocate a reconfiguration. The option at the top of the list would split up Nikiski Middle-Senior High School, put grades six through eight at what is now Nikiski Elementary and leave North Star Elementary to serve all Nikiski's students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Monday at 10:30 a.m., Nikiski parents and educators will meet with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education to discuss the proposed changes. Work sessions are held at the Borough Building in Soldotna and are open to the public.

"We are geared up to go in there and beat the table," said Wayne Pattison, a parent who served on the reconfiguration committee.

Members of the reconfiguration committee advised the district to make the changes. The Kenai Pen-insula Borough Assembly appropriated $40,000 for planning.

But over the winter, the district administration, citing declining enrollment, balked at the concept.

At the May 15 school board meeting, Patrick Hickey, the district's assistant superintendent in charge of finances and facilities, recommended that the district halt the reconfiguration efforts and not spend any money on the matter.

In a memo to the board, he cited declining enrollments, cost issues and the need to examine all schools for potential consolidation.

Parents and educators from Nikiski, who have been working for four and a half years on the project, disagreed.

The board voted 4 to 1, with Debra Mullins dissenting, to postpone consideration of the matter and set a work session to discuss the conflicting recommendations.

Pattison said the proposed reconfiguration has broad support in Nikiski. Residents have been advocating change for 15 years and working on the specifics for four and a half years, but the effort is handicapped by turnover as parents move on to other concerns after their children finish two years in the middle school.

"We need to get the plans to proceed," he said. "The hitch is getting the money to get the building redone. Without the plans we are dead in the water."

The decline in enrollment over the past two years has hit Nikiski Elementary particularly hard and thrown a monkey wrench into the reconfiguration plans. Another new factor entering the discussion is a potential increase in state and federal funding for capital improvements to school buildings that could, potentially, help renovate Nikiski Elementary (See related story, page A-1).

"For anything we want to do, the district has to do something with that building," Pattison said.

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