Seward is on its way to getting a new middle school, thanks to a support initiative approved Monday night by the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education.
The school board joined the Seward Middle School Parent-Teacher-Student Association and Site-Based Council in supporting construction of a new facility to replace the existing building.
The support initiative is just the first in a long series of steps that must be taken before construction of a facility can begin.
Two years ago, the board appropriated funds to review the code compliance of the current building. The facility was found to violate current code.
Estimated costs of remodeling the existing building and constructing a new building were comparable -- about $10.7 million -- according to a report by district engineer Dave Spence, Gary Cain of Enterprise Engineering Inc., and Gerry Winchester of Winchester Alaska Inc. The report further stated that a new building would have a longer life, able to serve the community for 30 to 50 years, whereas a remodel of the 34-year-old school may last as little as 10 years.
Based on that information, the Seward Site-Based Council asked that the school board adopt a resolution in support of a new building.
"We realize this is just the first step, but we hope to get your support on this," site-based council representative Dan Degruff told the school board.
"We urge you to vote in favor of this," added Lynn Hold, vice president of the Seward PTSA.
District Superintendent Donna Peterson further supported the initiative, addressing potential questions about the decision.
"The questions is going to be, 'Why a new building with declining enrollment?'" she said.
The answer, she explained, is that the current building is not up to code.
"We have to do something," she said.
She added that if the school board and borough assembly move quickly, the project can be listed among the borough's priority capital improvement projects and be partially funded through the state.
"There's not a lot of time to take advantage of the opportunity to have the state pay for it," she said.
The members of the school board present at the meeting voted unanimously in support of the new building. Board members Al Poindexter and Margaret Gilman were not in attendance.
The school board also voted Monday night to approve a one-time health insurance allocation relieving district employees of excess health care costs.
The district's chief financial officer, Melody Douglas, explained the district's health care costs for the 2002 financial year ranged between $8.6 and $8.7 million, exceeding the district's reserve account.
That meant that the district and the employees together had to make up the difference -- requiring each employee to reimburse the district $120 for a total of $137,760.
In addition, the employee contribution to health insurance rose significantly between the 2002 and 2003 fiscal years. Employees were paying $606 per month -- this year they will have to pay $650 per month.
In light of the increase, the district's Health Care Cost Committee asked that the school board waive the $120 reimbursement requirement for employees.
Douglas noted the nearly $9 million health care bill is an increase over previous years and follows a national trend of rising health care costs.
"It's a national issue," she said. "We're facing insurance issues across the board."
The school board spent several minutes discussing the relief allocation, supporting the move but emphasizing that it was a one-time-only situation.
"Given the nature of what transpired, the $606 to $650 increase and the jump we're going to see in the coming year, I'm supportive of this request on a very one-time basis," said school board member Joe Arness. "I just don't know that at the end of each year we want to get into the habit of balancing the books this way."
School board member Deborah Germano echoed Arness's support and concerns.
"I want to express support, but I also look at this as a one-time request," she said. "I don't want the district to be the bail out. I know we have problems with health care costs, and we will be looking at it."
The allocation was unanimously passed by the board.
In other school board news:
The board unanimously approved resolutions concerning hazardous bus routes for North Star, Nikiski, Redoubt, Soldotna, Seward, Mountain View, West Homer, Paul Banks and Kalifornsky Beach elementary schools. The resolutions will be forwarded to the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.
The board unanimously approved a school incentive program that would allow individual schools to carry over extra funds from year to year. The residual funds, under the control of the school administrator, have previously been returned to the district at the end of each year, developing a "use-it-or-lose-it mentality," according to Douglas.
The new system would allow the schools to retain those funds -- essentially saving for bigger purchases -- for equipment purchase and repair and extra curriculum costs.
The board approved revised language to the district's high school graduation requirement policy. The policy was changed four years ago, but old language remained for students who had started high school under the old version. All such students have graduated, and the revision eliminated the old language.
The board approved an amendment to the Soldotna Montessori Charter School charter. The original charter required teachers to hold both an Alaska Type A certificate and Montessori certification. Because the school has had trouble finding teachers with both certifications, the amendment allows the school to hire a teacher with only an Alaska Type A certificate, so long as the new hire agrees to complete Montessori certification within one year.
The board approved the resignation of Tammy Vollom-Matturro, Tustumena Elementary music teacher; Todd Phillips, Homer High School science teacher; and Phil Biggs, district technology specialist. An unpaid leave of absence also was approved for North Star Elementary custodian Robin Traxinger.
The board approved the following new teacher assignments for the 2002 school year: Andrea Cacek, Kenai Central High School, art/photography teacher; Sheila Murray, KCHS, special education/resource teacher; Denise Romans, Nikiski Elementary, temporary Title I math teacher; David Brown, Nikiski Middle-Senior High School, special education/ resource teacher; Richard Bremicker, Port Graham School, grades one to four; Corey Cook, Skyview High School, activities director and photography teacher; Emily Sims, Skyview, home economics teacher; Stephanie Zuniga, Skyview, temporary Spanish teacher; Christine Casiano, Soldotna Elementary, temporary primary teacher; Kathleen Holt, Soldotna Elementary, temporary Title I reading teacher; Linda Frink, Soldotna High, math/language arts teacher; Donald Torres, Tebughna School, grades three to six; and Ingrid McKinstry, West Homer Elementary, temporary Title I teacher.
The following nontenure teacher assignments also were approved: Saundra Hudson, Homer Middle School, social studies and physical education; Holly Kiel, Kenai Middle School, temporary Title V reading teacher; and Matthew Widaman, Skyview High, vocational education.
Richard Sander also was approved as principal of Chapman School.
These assignment approvals marked the end of the district's current hiring process. According to Peterson, the district hired 18 new-to-position administrators -- moving six administrators within the district, promoting seven district teachers to administration positions and hiring five from outside the district. The district also hired 82 certified staff members, including 24 teachers rehired from the district's reduction in staff this spring and 58 others. All the new hires were to fill open positions, Peterson said, not new positions.
Human resources director Tim Peterson added that of the new hires, 60 percent are from within the Kenai Peninsula Borough, 20 percent from other parts of Alaska and 20 percent from Outside.
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