Nikiski parents won out in their bid to get school board support for rearranging their schools.
After discussion in a Monday morning work session, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education voted at its evening meeting to proceed with planning and cost estimates to potentially convert Nikiski Elementary School into a middle school.
"When you ask the question, 'What's best for all the kids?' I had to change my vote," said school board member Susan Larned.
The unanimous vote sided with the members of the Nikiski school reconfiguration committee and went counter to an earlier administrative recommendation to shelve the project because of tight money and declining enrollments. The Nikiski group wants to consolidate elementary grades into North Star Elementary School and to move grades six through eight out of the high school into the building that now houses Nikiski Elementary.
School board President Deb Germano said the grass-roots work that people put into the reconfiguration influenced her vote.
"For me, it was knowing more history on it," she said. "Evidently it is something the community anticipated even when the high school was built."
Wayne Pattison, a parent volunteer who served on the committee, praised the school board's decision.
Six people came to testify at the work session. The school board asked a lot of questions, and the in-depth discussion was productive, he said.
But the approval at this stage does not guarantee the changes will take place.
Germano emphasized that the district's crystal ball is far from clear. Because of demographic changes and tight state budgets, the district is shrinking, and the next few years may bring major changes that cannot be predicted now.
"We need to look at all the schools," she said.
The Monday vote clears the way for the district to spend $40,000 the borough allocated to estimate costs and plan a conversion at Nikiski Elementary. The school furniture and fixtures are designed for small children, so accommodating older students would require major renovations.
No funds are available at this time to do the actual conversion, she said.
The district ranks an expansion of Soldotna Middle School, which has been filled over capacity for years, and getting an appropriate building for the expanding school body in the Kachemak Bay Russian Old Believer village of Voznesenka as high priorities. The board plans to discuss the potential of submitting bond issues to peninsula voters to pay for those facilities and Nikiski renovations, Germano said.
Bonding for those projects would be separate from the major maintenance capital projects list likely to appear on this October's borough ballot.
The school board also held a work session on the project list, rearranging priorities and discussing the opportunities increased state maintenance money offers.
Borough assembly member Tim Navarre attended the school board meeting and urged the district to put as many projects as possible on the list to allow flexibility.
The next meeting of the school board will be July 10 at 7:30 p.m. in the Borough Building in Soldotna.
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