On Oct. 20, the newly elected school board will be seated as a nine-member, regionalized board, replacing the seven-member, at-large structure. Citizens have examined the concept of having school board members elected by region, probably ever since the establishment of the borough in the 1960s. Last October, the voters made it a reality.
As a member of the Borough Reapportionment Committee charged with making recommendations on the issue, I at first agonized over whether such a regionally constituted board would put regional interests above what is good for all children in the district. However, after listening to arguments pro and con, I realized no matter what the structure, people have a natural tendency to relate to what is familiar to them. So, if, for the sake of argument, the majority of the board members are from the southern peninsula, we likely will hear more about issues and schools from that region.
Herein lies the strength of the new structure. By regionalizing the representation and increasing the number (which was the recommendation of the borough assembly and not the reapportionment committee), we make the policymakers more accessible to the public. In this structure, too, no region is left out.
More than ever, we need to engage the public in educational issues. The survival of our democratic society is dependent on thriving communities. In turn, these communities are dependent on quality education centers.
Fewer children are coming into the public school system due to demographics; however, many children are leaving to privately and publicly funded alternatives, and some are dropping out and drifting. Yet we still rely on the local public school for taking care of whomever comes through the door and for supporting many education and community functions that the alternatives do not.
Although numbers of students are down, costs have increased due to inflation, increased benefit costs and increased accountability measures. Student testing mandates, school reporting requirements and regulations on teacher utilization have all increased costs of education.
Even without the state and federal mandates of the last five years, the state has failed education by not keeping up with inflation in the foundation formula. A healthy economy is dependent on a well-trained, local work force that begins with a well-educated local citizenry. It takes steady and persistent citizen input into legislatures to provide for adequate education funding. It takes voters making a statement at the ballot box. However, we need to continuously update our parents and our taxpayers on these issues.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has been on the cutting edge of innovations in programming and administrative efficiencies in this state. At a time when we see more government functions moving out of communities and centralized at population centers, this borough is sending the message to localize.
The greatest opportunity for the new regionalized board is that along with the site councils at individual schools, we have a ready-made communications infrastructure. Let's use it!
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