Budget concerns fuel school races

Posted: Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Last October, voters asked for more choices in their representation on the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education by approving a reappropriation of the board.

This October, they're almost getting their wish.

After the Oct. 7 election, the seven-member, at-large board will be replaced by a nine-member board elected by district. That means every seat on the board is up for re-election.

In three of the nine new districts, voters may actually get the choices they wanted.

Races in District 1-Kalifornsky, District 3-Nikiski and District 7-Central have become just that: races, in which at least two candidates are vying for a single seat. The other districts have only one candidate formally running, with the exception of District 9-South Peninsula, which drew no candidates.

In District 1, former school teacher and five-year board incumbent Lorraine "Sammy" Crawford faces former school custodian and six-time candidate Gene Dyson.

Crawford is running on a platform of experience and continuity, explaining that in an era of transition and tumultuous budget cuts, the board needs stability.

Dyson argues that continuity is exactly what's ailing the board and the schools it oversees. He proposes new blood for the board with a fresh outlook on the district's challenges.

Among the primary challenges facing the district are an increasingly tight financial situation and the added stress of state and federal mandates, such as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

Crawford said the central reasons for the district's problems come from government, and the district needs to work to enlighten state and federal officials.

"When we lose enrollment, we lose money," she said. "The borough is funding us to the cap. We have to work with the state. We've gone to them, but until there's a consensus, we're not going to see change."

She also said NCLB is a good philosophy, but one which is running amok.

"A 100 percent pass rate is like requiring a hospital to have no patients die," she said of the federal government's decree that all students pass proficiency levels on high-stakes tests by 2013. "It's impossible.

"The district is at the 2009-10 standards (overall), but there are 31 ways to pass and we have to pass them all. The standards are high and they're unreasonable."

Dyson, however, blames previous school board members and district administration for the problems.

"They haven't had their priorities right," he said, in relation to budget woes. "This year, we lost 50 teachers. No one showed an either, and, or alternative."

He said he believes budgeting should start with figuring out the number of teachers needed in the district and go from there. However, he also said programs such as vocational and technical education and extracurricular activities are "musts."

As far as NCLB legislation: "There are places where you have to delegate. It's up to the superintendent to make sure we accomplish the task," he said. "I know we're all accountable, but that's why we have a superintendent to make sure we're going in the right direction."

Candidates in District 3 also have diverse opinions on the future of the school board and district.

Former nurse and longtime incumbent Debra Mullins faces newcomer Vicki Pate in one of the more divisive races in this year's campaign.

Like Crawford, Mullins said she believes financial relief needs to come from the state and federal government.

On a state level, she said there have been several funding studies that have been shelved by various legislatures.

"In every one, the Kenai comes out ahead, but we don't get ahead," she said.

On a federal level, she added, the government has not funded its mandates, including the No Child Left Behind Act.

"We need to fight as a community," she said.

Pate, on the other hand, takes a far different view of education and the district's issues.

She is running on a platform endorsing privatization of public schools and said she wants to wrest education out of the control of the government. Not only would such a move obliterate problems such as funding shortages and the NCLB legislation, it also would provide more choices for students and their families, she said.

"If we do away with federal, state and local funding and go private, there will be five times as many schools, and they will be smaller and closer to our homes," she said. "Every family has the opportunity to decide what is important to their child, what their child needs. You need to figure out what needs to be done and do that. It's your responsibility, they're your kids."

Finally, in District 7, newcomers Debbie Holle and Melanie Osterman are facing off for the opportunity to represent the greater Kasilof area.

Holle, who has a long history of political and community service, said she hopes to bring her managerial experience and conservative financial approach to the board.

She said she would like to see the borough try to take on more of the district's noneducation expenses by integrating the custodial staff into the same budget the borough uses to maintain schools and by taking over extracurricular activities.

Osterman agreed the district needs to use its resources more for direct education-related efforts. She would like to see discretionary travel and equipment purchases take a back seat to meeting the NCLB legislation and providing students with "the basics," she said.

Also in District 7, 18-year-old student Kaleb Shields is mounting a small write-in campaign to join the board and learn more about how public education functions.

In the other districts, candidates include:

Incumbent Margaret Gilman in District 2-Kenai;

Incumbent Nels Anderson in District 4-Soldotna;

Newcomer Marty Anderson in District 5-Sterling/Funny River;

Newcomer Sandy Wassilie in District 6-East Peninsula; and

Incumbent Deborah Germano in District 8-Homer.

District 9-South Peninsula, which encompasses Anchor Point, the other side of Kachemak Bay and all of the south peninsula outside the Homer city limits, drew no candidates. A write-in candidate is expected to fill the seat.

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