School district may face redistricting

Board debates future relations

Posted: Wednesday, June 06, 2001

The official name is the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

The district reports to the borough assembly, shares a building with the borough administration and gets a substantial chunk of its funding from borough taxpayers. It is the borough's biggest employer and most expensive project.

However, a few sticking points in the relationship between the borough and its school district came up for discussion at Monday night's school board meeting.

Board member Sandra Wassilie put her colleagues on notice that the borough's redistricting committee, of which she is a member, may change the school board seats.

"I believe the committee will be discussing the possibility of redistricting the school board," she said.

Tim Navarre, the assembly president who presides over the committee and appointed her to it, indicated he planned to bring a resolution to the assembly Tuesday introducing the concept of districting the school board, she said.

In a May 25 memo to the assembly, Navarre wrote, "The school board currently has seven members and, according to Alaska Statutes, must be elected at-large unless districting is approved by the voters. Some Reapportionment Committee members have expressed an interest in examining school board representation by district."

The resolution, if adopted, would merely authorize the committee to consider changes should the committee so choose, he continued.

"It should be noted that at its last meeting of May 24, 2001, with seven members present, four indicated an interest in pursuing these other issues, and three expressed reservations or opposed considering planning and school board apportionment and districting issues. No formal vote was taken."

Board member Joe Arness said the proposal concerns him. In another matter, he successfully removed wording that referred to the school district as "subordinate" to the borough.

He suggested the board write a letter expressing hesitation about the borough committee redistricting it. Such a discussion should be a joint process, he said.

The board also discussed plans to move the district out of the Borough Building to allow more space for increasing staff sizes over the years.

Board member Debra Mullins is a member of the committee seeking a new home for the school district administration.

"It has been six months now. We still have not come to a decision," she said.

"We are still looking at lease space."

Superintendent Donna Peterson said the district is reluctant to become involved in political aspects of a move, but she asked if it is time for the administration to weigh in on the site selection process.

"With the approval of the board, I would like to request a work session," Mullins said.

Arness offered his support.

"I think that would be very appropriate," he said.

In other school board action:

n The district is looking at belt tightening for next year.

Assistant Superintendent Patrick Hickey, the district's business manager, presented the board with results of his analysis of the changes in school funding enacted by the Legislature in May.

"The net effect is, we are still out about $270,000," he said.

The educators had hoped for more new money from the state than the lawmakers allocated, so the original budget projections need to be scaled back. The district is still weighing options for doing that, Hickey said.

One idea is to see how many planned expenditures may qualify for remedial education grants.

Another is to recategorize Seward Middle-Senior High School as two different schools.

The site has two buildings united by a single hallway. Because of state calculations based on school size, the district could receive more money for separate Seward Middle and Seward High schools despite the requirement to hire an extra principal, he said.

Arness, speaking of the budget numbers, said, "It still sounds like we are shooting in the dark."

Hickey explained that the district needs to submit a revised budget now to meet borough deadlines, but the numbers will change again in October when information on enrollment becomes available.

n The board honored four retiring employees.

Ed McLain, the assistant superintendent for instruction, is leaving the district to become the assistant commissioner of education for the state. The board hosted a reception for him prior to the meeting.

Board members complimented McLain's contributions to the district and wished him well in his new post. They noted that they will still work with him in his new capacity and predicted he will be a valuable ally in Juneau.

"I think the Department of Education is getting a good man," Mullins said. "I know the district will have a loss, but the state will have a great gain."

John Andrews, the athletic director from Skyview High School, is leaving his post to become the events coordinator for the Alaska School Athletics Association. He taught in the district for 19 years, working at what was then Kenai Junior High and Nikiski Middle-Senior High School before going to Skyview.

"His efforts have led to the Kenai Peninsula becoming a mecca for school activities," Arness said.

Teresa Orr, principal teacher at Cooper Landing School, and Fred Colvin, principal teacher at Tebughna School in Tyonek, were honored for their years of service to the district with gold pans.

n District personnel head Todd Syverson said hiring new teachers is going better than last year but remains cause for serious concern in light of the national and state shortage of skilled applicants in some specialties.

The district is still trying to fill difficult-to-staff positions in its bush schools and special education.

"Even a few openings make me nervous," Syverson told the board.

n Revisions to the procedure for challenging school materials received unanimous approval.

Under the new policy, two distinct procedures are set up, depending on whether a book or other material is part of the required classroom curriculum or an optional item.

Required materials may only be challenged by staff, district residents and parents or guardians of students. Complaints will go to the 11-member districtwide Instructional Materials Review Commit-tee, as under past policy.

But under the revision, nonrequired materials will be reviewed by a smaller committee of five or more district staff.

The school board will retain the right to have a final say about using materials.

"It is the intent of this revision ... to streamline the process for those nonrequired materials," McLain told the board.

The next meeting of the school board will be at 7:30 p.m. July 9 in the Borough Building in Soldotna.

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