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School board race focuses on fed program, cocurricular activities

Posted: Sunday, September 26, 2004

Incumbent Sammy Crawford would bring six years experience and a penchant for cooperation to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District's Board of Education, the candidate said Thursday night.

Her opponent, seven-time school board candidate Gene Dyson, favors an overhaul of old ways of doing business, he said.

The candidates, running for the District 1 Kalifornsky seat on the school board Oct. 5, faced off in a question-and-answer forum sponsored by the Kenai Peninsula League of Women Voters in Soldotna on Thursday.

Questions for the candidates ranged from the controversial federal No Child Left Behind Act to funding for cocurricular activities to home schooling.

Crawford, a retired 30-year history teacher, said she sits on the board out of a desire to serve her community and remain involved in education.

"My father always said you had to have a reason you get up in the morning," she said. "When I first ran, I though I knew everything. I thought, 'This will be easy.' After six years, I'm just starting to figure things out."

Dyson, who retired as a custodian at Soldotna Elementary School and lists service experience on several financial boards and review committees, said he is running out of an interest in changing the way education is delivered and paid for on the peninsula.

"That early retirement thing, not all, but a lot of teachers bailed out," he said, referring to a cost-saving measure implemented in the district several years ago. "I got involved from there, got into finance committees. I may not approach things the same way, but I have the same itinerary."

Whoever is elected to the nine-member board will have their work cut out for them, dealing with ongoing issues in the district, including a funding shortage, a growing movement toward home schooling among area families and a battle to save cocurricular activities not to mention efforts to reduce class sizes and offer suitable educational opportunities for the districts' 9,000 students.

Pinpointing one of the most hot-button issues in the community, the League asked the candidates to define cocurricular activities and outline a plan for funding them.

"Cocurricular activities are all activities that take place outside the school day," Crawford said. She explained, for example, that music classes in school are curricular, not cocurricular, but activities outside school hours like Mass Band or Mass Choir are cocurricular. Sports, too, are a big part of the cocurricular experience in the district, she said.

"We do have limited funding," she said. "We decided on the board that we would like to continue funding activities, now we have to decide which ones and how much. I think that's a decision that has to be made by the people involved."

"I'm a strong advocate of sports. It's an important function of the growing-up function in the school district," Dyson said, without outlining a funding plan.

Funding as a whole is a key issue for the school board, and, when asked by an audience member how to solve budget and class cuts, Dyson said the first step is seeking fresh faces on the board.

"You have to take this tongue-in-cheek, but the first thing to do is probably vote out some of the old-guard school board members," he said. "Second, regroup, and second, get with our able (chief financial officer) Melody (Douglas) then come up with an either-or budget. There's other ways, but I haven't seen a plan in the last seven years. Basically, regroup and find out how to do it."

Crawford said simply overhauling the board which happened in part last year, when it went from a seven-member, at-large board to nine members elected by district won't solve the district's big problems.

"Seventy percent of our money comes from the state," she said. "The school board has always lobbied and worked with our state delegation, and we also receive full and unwavering support from our borough assembly.

"We've written thousands of grants, and we're trying to find innovative ways of offering distance learning. We're offering AP calculus and AP English by distance delivery, so students in Seldovia and other places can take it.

"We're trying to find out different ways of doing things."

In the end, both candidates said their own attitudes and skills would make the difference on the board.

"I think finances are one of the most important subjects we need to be addressing," Dyson said. "Anybody knows me knows I can think outside the box."

Crawford, too, said creative solutions are necessary. But, she said her greatest asset for the board will be teamwork.

"We will always have problems," she said. "I like to listen to a lot of points of view. I like to think I am a team player. We have to work together to solve our problems."



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