School board to seat Hilts, Crawford

Legislature sets rules regarding public education

Posted: Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Oct. 2 re-election of two Kenai Peninsula Borough School Board members and the passage of Proposition 3 limiting the terms of school board members caused a confusing wrinkle and left board president Debra Mullins wondering what to do at Monday's meeting.

This week Colette Thompson, borough attorney, delivered a recommendation to Mullins, school board members and Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Superintendent Donna Peterson that gave Mullins the direction she was seeking.

"It is recommended that all school board members elected to office in the October 2, 2007, election be seated once the assembly has certified the election," Thompson wrote. "The term limit provisions should not be recognized now or in future school board elections unless the state delegates authority to impose such limits to local governments."

Thompson's decision was based on the Alaska Constitution's requirement that the state maintain a school system, giving control of public education to the Legislature.

"As a result, a municipality is precluded from exercising power over education unless, and to the extent, delegated by the legislature," Thompson wrote. "A municipality cannot enact an ordinance that conflicts with a state education statute."

State statutes spell out the qualifications and tenure in office for school board members. Among the statutes cited in Thompson's letter was AS 14.12.050(c): "Nothing in this section prevents school board members from succeeding themselves."

Representing the southern Kenai Peninsula, Edith-Helen "Sunni" Hilts took 577 votes, or 95.95 percent of the 602 votes cast. Hilts was originally elected to the board in 2003. In the Kalifornsky district, Lorraine "Sammy" Crawford took 518 votes, or 63.09 percent of the 821 votes cast. Her opponent, Eugene L. "Gene" Dyson trailed with 299 votes, or 36.42 percent. Crawford was originally elected to the school board in 1998 and currently serves on the board of the Association of Alaska School Boards.

Mullins said she intends to follow Thompson's recommendation.

"The advice I'm receiving from the attorney is that we would go ahead and seat the board members and declare that there was no vacancy that existed," Mullins said. "The reason we would be seating board members is we're trying to comply with state statutes."

Mullins said copies of Thompson's memo have been forwarded to all board members, including Hilts and Crawford who are currently out of state.

Contacted by telephone, Hilts said she was surprised by Thompson's recommendation.

"I was not expecting this at all," she said, adding that she would be back in Alaska in time to attend Monday's school board meeting in Soldotna. "I am delighted to continue to serve. ... Obviously the school district, on advice of the attorney, has no choice of what to do. We're not overthrowing anybody's vote."

Peterson said Thompson's ruling provides for the continuity of board members. Not only is that important in dealing with such school district matters as budget and curriculum, but it also has an impact on the district's networking abilities.

"The Kenai Peninsula has been very effective in the state organization (AASB), as well as with the Legislature," Peterson said. "The Legislature is very familiar with our personnel. They look forward to seeing them each year and we have credibility as a district and as individuals representing the district."

Proposition 3, as well as another proposition limiting term limits for members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, was sponsored by ACT, the Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers. It passed with 53 percent of the vote.

After reading Thompson's memo Wednesday morning, Ruby Denison of ACT said the memo was being forwarded to ACT's attorney, Ken Jacobus.

"I have been focused on the assembly term limits, and this is the first I've seen of any research that the school board might be different," Denison said. "I wrote down the (statute references) and will go to them to see if I arrive at the same conclusion. I just don't know."

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.



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