Dyson says he offers school board just the change it needs

Posted: Wednesday, September 25, 2002

"Career candidate" -- that's what Gene Dyson calls himself.

A retired school custodian, Dyson is making his fifth bid at election to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education. He will face incumbent Debra Mullins for Seat A on the board.

"The reason I keep running is because I'm stubborn," Dyson said. "And I'm concerned about the direction of the education system."

Dyson first came to Alaska and the Kenai Peninsula in 1971, moving his wife, Yvonne, and their two children from California. In 1984, Dyson began working as a substitute custodian.

He became a permanent employee and eventually the head custodian at Soldotna Elementary School, where he worked until retiring in 1997.

The Dysons' children also went through the peninsula school system, and their grandchildren, now 12 and 15, are in Soldotna schools.

Even after retiring from the district, Dyson has remained involved in education, carefully following trends in education both nationwide and in the district.

He keeps a binder full of clippings of newspaper and magazine articles on education issues and a ledger of the school district's budget at home.

Dyson said he believes the school board needs fresh blood -- someone to ask the hard questions about issues the board takes for granted.

"They need a change," he said. "We have a lot of problems in the district and (the school board) has to be aware of them."

Dyson's primary concern is financial matters.

"Six or seven years ago, we had a bare bones budget. Now we still have a bare bones budget," he said. "Did we have a long-range plan, a set of priorities?"

He also worries about declining school enrollment -- both as a factor in the budgeting process and a statement about peninsula schools.

The district often points to people leaving the state as a reason for declining enrollment in area schools, Dyson said. He pointed out, however, about 1,000 students on the peninsula are home schooled.

"What happened?" he asked. "The crux of the thing is why, as a parent, would you put your child into home school."

One explanation, he offered, is that families -- and area teachers -- are tired of dealing with budget and personnel issues in the district.

"Morale is not the greatest in the district," he said, tracing the issue back to an early retirement offer in the late 1990s.

"They thought they'd save some money, but at the end, they probably didn't save. How many good teachers left because they'd had enough? How many parents took their kids out of school because they'd had enough?"

The ongoing contract negotiations for teachers and support staff aren't helping matters, he said.

"We have to start interfacing from the school board down to employees -- employees are the most valuable resource. They make or break the district.

"How do we grade our school board on personnel?" Dyson asked.

"In some ways, we're not heading in the right direction," he said. "Somewhere along the way, I think we need a change in the system."

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