Peninsula school board agrees with almost all state association's stances

Posted: Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education is on board with the Association of Alaska School Boards' annual list of resolutions and brief statements -- with a handful of exceptions.

The KPBSD board disagreed with the association stance -- to varying degrees -- on matters including school district consolidation and mandatory borough formation, revamping of the state's education funding formula and the formation of new regional boarding schools.

The annual "core resolutions" document outlines the association's positions on a number of financial, educational and political matters related to education in the state's public schools. The resolutions have been presented to the association by individual school boards, an association committee has made recommendations on each and the resolutions now are back at the local level, where boards are voting their positions on the packet.

In November, when the association membership meets, boards will officially lodge those votes.

For the most part, the Kenai Peninsula school board went along with the association's recommendations on the matters. However, a handful of resolutions sparked vivid discussion.

District consolidation, borough formation

AASB has long opposed both mandatory consolidation of the state's 53 school districts and mandatory formation of boroughs, but Kenai Peninsula educators tend to disagree.

"We, as a board, should vote against continued opposition (to consolidation) because, financially, it's responsible for the state of Alaska to not have 53 school districts," said board member Margaret Gilman.

She explained that a stance in favor of consolidation -- and more efficiency in education as a whole -- gives the district more credibility when going to the Legislature for additional funding.

Board member Sandy Wassilie, however, said she will continue to oppose mandatory consolidation, explaining that she believes in local control.

"I think this is the kind of action we like to see in our democracy with action at the local level," Wassilie said.

The board voted 5-4 not to support the AASB resolution against consolidation and 5-4 not to support the resolution against borough formation.

Formula rewrite

Several AASB resolutions deal with education funding, specifically the state's funding formula, which AASB wants rewritten to improve funding for all schools in the state. While Kenai Peninsula educators generally support a rewrite of the formula, the board voted Monday to amend wording in the AASB resolution.

The AASB resolution calling for a rewrite of the formula includes a section on the area cost differential and associated studies that have been completed in past years analyzing the different costs school districts incur based on their location.

AASB asks for the state to implement the findings of these studies while holding districts harmless for any changes. The school board voted to amend the resolution, deleting reference to holding districts harmless.

"I think it negates the purpose of asking for a rewrite," Gilman said, explaining that holding districts harmless would perpetuate an imbalanced system.

"We don't want to harm others, but holding districts harmless would handicap the Legislature and anyone else in getting a fair formula," said board members Nels Anderson.

The board voted unanimously to amend the AASB's recommended resolution.

Boarding schools

One AASB resolution supports adequate funding for boarding schools formed by individual school districts or regions. While board members said they support the general concept of public boarding schools for rural students -- and funding for such schools -- board member Sunni Hilts raised concerns about the resolution's broad-based support for regional schools without state oversight.

Hilts, who first moved to oppose the resolution but later settled for an amendment, said she believes boarding school plans must be entered into with excessive forethought and that some state guidelines are necessary to make sure the schools can succeed financially.

The board voted 8-1 in favor of the amendment, which removed a sentence in the resolution lauding region-based formation of boarding schools.

A couple other issues sparked attention from board member Debbie (Holle) Brown, though she was unsuccessful in garnering board support for her positions. Specifically, Brown sought to oppose resolutions supporting a state endowment fund for education and backing municipal revenue sharing, which often passes funds along to school districts.

Brown said she felt the items were outside the purview of the Association of Alaska School Boards.

"I do not believe AASB should be involved in this," she said. "This is my opportunity to speak as a representative of the folks I represent in my district. I believe sometimes AASB gets off track and involved with things it shouldn't be involved with."

Brown also attempted to amend a resolution that calls for financial support for statewide strategies. The resolution "urges the Alaska Legislature to provide the financial support necessary for public education, the Department of Education and Early Development, universities and other agencies ... ."

Brown wanted to delete reference to universities and the AASB call for enhanced teacher preparation and professional development from the resolution.

"I believe AASB, in my view, is out of bounds when they start to involve our decisions with the University of Alaska," she said. "These days it is becoming more evident that K-12 is in competition for funding right along with the university."

Other board members, however, said the university is invaluable in training teachers, who in turn improve education for K-12 students, and in providing partnerships with school district to offer more opportunities to students.

"There may be a competition for state dollars, but the university needs our students," Wassilie said. "It's in the university's best interest to see strong schools."

"This, to me, speaks to partnerships," added board member Deb Mullins.

Brown's amendment failed 7-2.

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