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School board candidates face tough issues

Posted: Wednesday, September 25, 2002

The race for Kenai Peninsula Board of Education may not be the most hotly contended election on the Oct. 1 ballot, but that doesn't mean it's short on issues.

Only four candidates are running for the three open seats on the school board. Incumbent Debra Mullins is facing longtime candidate Gene Dyson for Seat A, while incumbents Margaret Gilman and Dr. Nels Anderson are running unopposed for Seats B and C, respectively.

But while the election isn't packed with hopefuls, the candidates who are elected will face a number of pressing issues in the coming term.

"There are a lot of problems in this district," said Dyson. "(School board members) have to be aware."

Most immediately, the school board is working to complete contract negotiations for teachers and support staff employees in the district.

The employee contracts expired June 30, and the negotiation process reached an impasse Friday, meaning the bargaining will go before a federal mediator in the coming month.

The board members also will have to deal with school related issues on the borough ballot, including a school bond proposal and a possible redistricting of the school board.

If the bond proposition passes, the district will begin work to build a new middle school in Seward to replace the collapsing facility. If it fails, the board will have to start investigating new ways to pay for massive repairs at the school.

The redistricting proposition also presents a challenge to board members. Voters may decide to keep the board at status quo, with seven members elected at large. However, voters also may decide to revamp the board and elect members by assembly district -- which would mean every seat would be up for re-election next year.

Then there's the everyday business of running a school district. Board members face budget issues such as the steadily declining enrollment in the district and the state's area cost differential -- which leaves many in the district unsatisfied with the way the district is funded.

Funding issues also play into curriculum decisions, for which board members also are responsible. As the district faces a budget crunch, board members will have to make tough decisions, such as weighing class size against extracurricular offerings and deciding whether to start consolidating smaller schools.

While all four candidates have acknowledged a number of strengths and successes in the district, each recognizes there is still a great deal of work to be done.

"This district provides education, great teachers, kids who want to learn and parents who help their children. That's what makes it successful," Mullins said. But, she added, she is running for the board again because she still sees areas that need work.

"The district is doing pretty well," echoed Gilman, "but there's always room for improvement."

Regardless of who is elected, the school board has set a list of 11 priorities and 25 action items to work on this year.

"We'll get a lot done," Anderson said.



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