The Veterans of Foreign Wars presented school officials with a sticky situation: They wanted to perform ceremonies on school grounds, but the presentation included firearms and strict new safety rules bar weapons' presence on school grounds.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District worked out a compromise.
At Monday's meeting of the Board of Education, members unanimously voted to amend policy to allow special permission to have weapons at schools under approved circumstances.
Dave Morse spoke on behalf of the VFW Post 10046 in Soldotna. He said the issue was important to veterans' organizations throughout the area.
"Because of the Columbine incident, we realize, so much damage has been done to our rights," he said.
The issue here came up this spring when a veteran died and his memorial service attracted so much interest that arrangements were made to hold it in the Soldotna High School Auditorium. In accordance with a 200-year-old tradition, his comrades with the VFW planned a rifle salute.
They realized at the time that the same contradiction would come up for the July 1 God and Country Rally.
The result was a long series of meetings with school and law enforcement officials, Morse said after the meeting.
The veterans display rifles and fire salutes with blanks during ceremonial presentations of the U.S. flag. The firearms have plugged barrels and cannot fire ammunition, he explained to the school board.
Moreover, the posts follow strict security procedures, including storage in safes and chain-of-custody documentation, to assure their firearms cannot fall into improper hands, he said.
Assistant Superintendent Patrick Hickey worked with the VFW to find a solution.
"It is the intent of the school district administration to recognize and show appreciation for the service of our veterans," Hickey wrote in a memo to the school board.
"We believe the rendering of military honors is an appropriate means to display our final act of gratitude. The presence of a military honor guard accompanying our United States Flag consists of two rifle bearers. Although these firearms have been rendered incapable of firing anything except blank rounds, the current state of public awareness resulting from school violence requires special consideration of all public viewpoints."
The new policy will allow groups to fill out an "Application for Community Possession of a Firearm or Deadly or Defensive Weapon on School Grounds." It must explain what the weapon is and why it is being used, plus be signed by the principal, a law enforcement official and the superintendent or her designee.
School Board President Deborah Germano said she was pleased that the district administration came up with a quick but carefully crafted solution to what appeared at first to be a dilemma.
"I know that was a difficult situation," she said.
In other school board business:
n The School Board unanimously approved renewing Donna Peterson's contract as district superintendent. She was hired in 1999, after serving as curriculum director, to replace John Dahlgren, who retired.
The new contract renews her contract through June 30, 2004. Her salary will be $98,000, with an increase of $1,500 per year. Other compensation includes a cell phone, a four-wheel drive vehicle, insurance, an annual physical, six weeks vacation, retirement benefits and a $5,000 annual bonus "in recognition of her advanced degree."
If the school board does not notify the superintendent to the contrary, her contract will automatically renew for another year.
n Changes are afoot in the district's central office.
Gary Whiteley took his post as assistant superintendent for instruction. He was formerly the district's director of curriculum and staff development. Whiteley replaces Ed McLain, whom the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development has hired to serve as the state's assistant commissioner for education.
Hickey, the district's assistant superintendent for business, has received his doctoral degree in business administration from California Coast University. The school board and administration congratulated him on the accomplishment.
District officials expressed regret at the news that Mark Leal, the district's director of assessment, has submitted his resignation. Leal, who lives in Homer, has been hired by the state to work in a similar capacity.
n The new pay schedule for substitutes and temporary employees was approved, and it was nearly identical to last year's.
Substitute teachers will continue earning $100 per day if certified and $84 if not.
The changes are a 10-cent-per-hour raise for cashiers and locker room attendants to $5.75 per hour and reclassification of temporary workers by skill levels. Depending on the level, their wages will range from $5.75 to $13 per hour, up from $5.65 to $12 last year.
The district's personnel director, Assistant Superintendent Todd Syverson, told the school board that he is trying to hold the line on costs.
The next meeting of the school board will be 7:30 p.m. Aug. 6 in the Borough Building in Soldotna.
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