What are the three biggest challenges facing the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District? Candidates' response to that and other topics are as widespread as are the board seats in this 25,600-square-mile district, with five candidates running for three three-year terms:
Debra K. Mullins, School Board Seat 3, Nikiski;
Victoria E. Pate "Vicki," School Board Seat 3, Nikiski;
John Nels Anderson, School Board Seat 4, Soldotna;
Debbie Holle Brown, School Board Seat 7, Central; and
Wayne Wong, School Board Seat 7, Central.
Collectively, the five candidates identified numerous challenges facing the district, including availability of resources, home schooling, small school class offerings, vocational classes, community support, lowering the pupil-to-teacher ratio, maintaining a learning environment, maintaining choices that allow parents to select the schools that work best for their children, contract negotiations and funding.
"In order to address these issues adequately, I need to first understand all the facts," said Wong, who lives in Clam Gulch and is a first-time school board candidate. "I am certain that these challenges have been looked at previously. Nevertheless, I have a strong desire to serve and believe where there is a will good things can happen."
Representing the unrepresented is the reason Pate, also a first-time candidate, said she chose to run for the board.
"Parents who educate privately either at home or utilizing a private school plus childless taxpayers who object to forced subsidy of government schooling are currently not being represented by the school board," Pate said. "I am running to give them a voice."
Anderson, who is running uncontested, has been on the school board since 1993. Brown was elected to the board in 2003. Mullins served on the school board from 1981 to 1987, and from 1996 until the present.
Ensuring adequate funding of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District was mentioned by several candidates as a priority. Using statewide area cost differentials, a recent study prepared by the Institute of Social and Economic Research of the University of Alaska indicated the need for a $10.2 million annual increase for the peninsula, the single biggest increase for any district in the state.
When asked what board members can do to ensure adequate funding, Brown said, "I will work with elected borough assembly members and communicate with our state Legislature to describe the needs of the district and the wishes of the families of the peninsula regarding equitable funding for K-12 schools."
Anderson noted restrictions of the board's influence.
"In honesty, the board has limited ability to affect funding period," he said.
Mullins turned the spotlight on the public's responsibility in waging the funding fight.
"I would encourage parents, retirees and general taxpayers to join with school board members in testifying before the Legislature regarding the cost differential study that is currently under review," she said.
Support from outside school walls also was highlighted when candidates addressed what can be done to help schools meet adequate yearly progress targets as required by the federally mandated No Child Left Behind act.
"Turn off the TV one night a week and read books as a family," Mullins said.
Wong stressed cooperation between parents and teachers.
"If we all work together, our children will meet these targets and learn important life values, as well," he said.
Brown said district administrators would work with schools to develop a plan for correcting deficiencies, adding, "additional funds and staff will be forwarded to these schools until the problems are corrected."
Anderson, characterizing NCLB as a "well-intended mistake by both political parties," said, "I am not particularly concerned if a school is deficient in one or two of the 31 requirements required by NCLB to pass. I believe we should use the NCLB data to help identify real deficiencies and correct them."
"No Child Left Behind is possible only if all children stand still," Pate said, adding, "We need a generation of problem-solving entrepreneurial individuals for our middle class to survive. We don't need test-taking robots."
Candidates' widest-ranging concerns related to what they would do to benefit the people in their districts. They addressed being guided by what is best for kids, pointed to longevity on the board and years of public service, committed to integrate experience in the professional arena with school board responsibilities, addressed church-sponsored educational programs, offered to facilitate parents' choice to remove children from government schools, pointed out the benefits of an entrepreneurial attitude among teachers and promised to do their best.
The election take place Oct. 4.
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