Five of Joe Arness' kids learned to read and write, to multiply and divide, to show up on time for class, in Kenai Peninsula Borough schools. Two more, ages 11 and 15, are getting their educations in those schools today.
For Arness, candidate for school board Seat E, public education is as much a family matter as it is a public one.
"I have a vested interest in it," he said about his involvement with the borough's schools.
Arness, who manages the Kenai Merit Inn, is no stranger to the peninsula or its schools. He has lived here since birth and served for 10 non-consecutive years on the school board.
Name: Joe Arness
Office sought: KPB School Board -
Occupation: Hotel Management
Family: Spouse -- Lila; children -- Angela, Sharee, Jacob, Heather, James, Melissa and Jennifer
Residency in Alaska and the Kenai Peninsula: 49 years
Education: Bachelor's degree - Boise State University
Political and government experience: Assembly member, Kenai Peninsula Borough, 3 years; KPB School Board, 10 years.
Business and professional positions: Manager - Kenai Merit Inn; real estate broker; commercial fisher
Service organization memberships: Kenai Visitors and Convention Bureau; Kenai Peninsula Board of Realtors
Best way for voters to reach me: phone, 283-6131, work; 776-8089, home
His biggest concern, he said, is the effect student population changes have on schools.
"As student population falls, funding falls, and as funding falls, how we deliver service has to change," he said.
State funding for schools is based on student enrollment.
Arness supports Proposition No. 1, the measure to allow the borough to issue bonds to pay for repairs to schools. He said he hopes the money it provides will free up funding for school programs.
Arness said that redistributing funds within the district is complicated.
"The popular answer is to take it away from administration and put it into classrooms," he said. "That's not what I'm going to say, because I know it's so much nonsense."
Arness described himself as "a real believer in cocurricular activities," and said that "we are going to have to come up with a new method to fund that." He noted that the superintendent created a panel last year to examine funding options, and said that he expects the activities program to improve over the next five years.
"But I'm the eternal optimist," he added.
Arness said he has no problem with home schooling or cyber schooling. He said he believes the district's responsibility is "simply to provide the best alternative (to home schooling or cyber schooling) we can ... and to support parents in their choices."
Arness said that the school board's role in Connections, the borough's cyber school program, is to define how it can best serve the program's users.
"I helped establish the Connections program," he said. "It's a work in progress."
Vocational education spending has decreased in "response to a decline in student interest in vocational education courses," Arness said. If interest in vocational education programs rises, he said, the school board should increase funding for them.
Arness said he questions the ability of the state exit exams to gauge student performance, although he said he believes "establishing a high standard for high school graduation is appropriate." Arness said he expects a certified diploma, which schools award to students who can demonstrate "basic proficiencies" to take the place of the exit exams in perhaps three years.
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