Margaret Gilman may be the newest member of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education, but experience is no shortfall.
Gilman grew up on the peninsula, attending area schools before going to the University of Notre Dame. She came back to the peninsula and taught in the district for 12 years, before taking time off to spend with her four children -- all of whom are in Kenai schools.
Eventually, she said, she plans to go back to teaching. But in the meantime, she is staying in touch with education issues by serving on the school board.
Gilman has been a board member since last year, when she beat Sandra Wassilie -- who was appointed to the board a year earlier for Seat C. This year, the seat is up for re-election on its normal three-year schedule. She is unchallenged in the election.
During her next term, Gilman plans to focus on settling contract negotiations and engaging in a healing process afterward, examining declining enrollment trends and working toward getting students through standardized testing.
Though as a school board member Gilman could say little about the particulars of contract negotiations, she maintained that the goal is to find a compromise that meets the needs of employees, the wishes of the community and the finances of the district. Though it may be difficult, she said she believes it will be reached.
"The most important thing is doing what is in the best interest of the kids," she said. "It is in the best interest to make sure employees are fairly compensated."
However, she pointed out the district does face financial barriers -- and that the problem comes from the state.
The state's area cost differential -- which funds schools at different percentages based on the degree of rural settings -- places the KPBSD at almost the same level as Anchorage schools, and at a lower funding level than the Matanuska-Susitna district, despite the number of outlying schools in the district.
"It's a huge deal and it's why we're in the boat we're in," Gilman said. "We've been underfunded year after year."
Another issue she wants to look at -- in relation to both funding and curriculum -- is the declining enrollment throughout the district.
"We need to find proactive ways to stem the tide," she said, adding the district needs to find creative ways to continue providing quality education to all students even while enrollment declines.
The board should focus on curriculum to help students pass the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam, she said.
"The district is doing pretty well, but there's always room for improvement."
And while she said test scores do not tell the whole story about a student, they are a measure of progress and a way to provide accountability in education.
Finally, she said, she wants to be a link between the community and the education system.
"Myself, and all the board members I think, are willing to talk with members of the constituency with questions, comments, concerns or compliments," she said. "I'm ready, open, available and wanting of the information."
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