School board structure issue ready for ballot

Posted: Thursday, June 06, 2002

Voters in October will get to choose whether to leave the Kenai Peninsula Borough Board of Education as it is or increase its size to nine members and elect them by district.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly approved a ballot measure Tuesday that will offer borough voters two choices Oct. 1.

The first, called Plan A, would leave the school board in the status quo -- that is, a seven-member board where all members are elected at large. Plan B, would replace the current structure with a nine-member board elected strictly by district.

In earlier versions of the proposed ordinance, Plan B had been different -- a seven-member board in which each member represented a specific district, but where all members were elected at large.

The boundaries of those seven districts had yet to be defined but would likely have been different from any existing district boundary. The prospect of handling still another set of distinct borders atop those of the assembly and state Legislature had not been greeted well by the borough clerk's office, according to assembly members. The new Plan B school board districts would mirror those of the assembly, simplifying the job of running elections, the assembly said.

Several members said they had heard it loud and clear from constituents that a nine-member, by-district school board appeared more representative, and that they wanted a choice.

Assembly member Milli Martin of Diamond Ridge, a former board member and veteran of board campaigns, said campaigning across the borough for a school board seat was "an absolutely formidable" task and reason enough to offer a by-district election plan.

"But I think the best reason for this is that there are folks in some of our smaller communities who would like the opportunity to serve on the school board, and they recognize that the way it is now they don't have a chance, so therefore they don't try," she said.

Assembly member Ron Long of Seward said assembly members aren't required to carry their campaigns to the far corners of the borough.

"It's way unfair to ask the members of the school board to do otherwise," he said.

School board member Deb Germano of Homer said she was speaking as an individual. She said the proposed ballot measure was asking the wrong questions, and proposed two different choices: one asking voters if they wanted a seven- or nine-member board, the other whether those positions should be districted.

"Those are clear choices," she said.

However, she said that overall she has long supported districted seats, in part because the cost in time and money of running a districtwide campaign for office likely keeps some good people from running.

Doug Stark of Homer said the $23,000 estimated increase in the cost of operating a larger school board "would be two-hundredths of the district's budget" and an amount well worth paying for better representation.

John Kistler of Kalifornsky Beach Road disagreed and supported the status quo.

"Nothing is simpler for eliminating border confusion than every time a school board member is up for election every voter in the borough gets to vote on that person, period," he said. "Whether or not it should be districted or not districted, that's a choice that can go before the voters."

Electing board members strictly by district could "politicize the school board," he added.

The assembly approved the final language of the ballot measure by a 9-0 vote. If the nine-member, by-district plan is approved by voters, the entire board would be up for election in 2004, with three seats going as three-year terms, three going as two-year terms and three as one-year terms to provide for a rotation of seats in future elections. Further, the seat in each district would be designed to terminate the year following termination of that district's assembly term.

In other business, the assembly:

Approved Ordinance 2002-13 establishing new road categories to which borough construction standards would be applied, such as road widths and construction materials.

Approved Ordinance 2002-14 setting specific conditional-use permit requirements for concentrated animal feeding operations.

Approved Ordinance 2002-15 defining grazing classifications for grazing and agricultural leases on borough land.

Approved Ordinance 2002-17 making housekeeping changes to borough election procedures to reflect current practices and changes in state election law.

Postponed action on Ordinance 2002-19 establishing the Anchor Point Port and Harbor Service Area until the meeting of June 18.

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