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Increased school board representation will cost district additional funds

More members mean more money

Posted: Wednesday, October 22, 2003

The recent reappropriation of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education will cost the district about $25,000, according to a budget increase approved by the board Monday night.

Voters in the Kenai Peninsula Borough last October approved a ballot measure that changed the school board from a seven-member board elected at large to a nine-member board with representatives elected by district.

The intent of the change was to broaden representation on the board, ensuring that communities outside the central peninsula have adequate representation.

And it seems to have worked.

Earlier this month, voters elected a new school board, which includes members not only from central peninsula districts such as Kenai, Soldotna, Nikiski, Sterling and Kasilof, but also from Homer, Seward and Seldovia.

The change, however, is not without a cost.

Each board member is paid a monthly salary of $180. Under state law, the district also must provide a health insurance plan for each board member, as well as contributions to the Public Employees Retirement System, FICA and unemployment insurance for each member.

The district provides reimbursements for travel expenses to and from board meetings. It also pays to send a handful of board members to state and national school board association meetings and to Juneau to lobby the Legislature.

Salaries and associated costs for two additional board members will cost the district approximately $14,000, according to the budget prepared by Chief Financial Officer Melody Douglas and approved by the board Monday.

Additional travel expenses which include a flight from Seldovia to Homer, mileage reimbursement from Seward and Homer and hotel rooms and meals for meeting days will cost about $4,500.

Superintendent Donna Peterson explained that not all board members opt to take the benefits provided. For example, some waive the health insurance or travel reimbursements provided by the district. Any money saved from such individual choices goes back into the district's general fund. However, by law, the district is required to budget enough money to cover all such expenses for all board members.

The district also provides some money for board expenses that are not required by law, though, and those expenses were the source of much debate Monday night.

Traditionally, the district has paid for seven trips to Juneau during the course of a year. The budget allows enough money for each board member to visit legislators once, or for some members to make more than one trip.

Due to the increase in the number of board members, the district recommended setting aside money for nine trips to Juneau still enough for each board member to go once. The increased travel costs are estimated at about $2,500.

The district also sends each board member to the Alaska Association of School Boards annual conference, and sends board members in the second year of their three-year terms to the National School Board Association annual conference.

The increase in travel, lodging and registration costs for two additional members to attend the AASB conference each year and one additional member to attend the NSBA conference each year would be about $2,200.

Debate at a work session and at the general meeting Monday centered on the appropriateness of these trips in a time of financial cutbacks.

School board member Margaret Gilman of Kenai said she believes such trips are important, but that teachers are more important. She proposed an amendment to the budget proposal to remove three trips to Juneau and the one trip to the national conference.

"My reason for making this amendment is not at all to imply that these items are not necessary," Gilman said. "It's necessary for the school board to travel to make a case for the district, and it's also important to look outside our community for ideas. But I feel that with the budget cuts and decisions we have to make, this is a small but important move."

Board newcomer Debbie Holle of Kasilof agreed with Gilman.

"I encourage support for this amendment," she said. "A budget is just that, it's a guideline. We can amend it again at any point in time."

But while other board members said they understood Gilman and Holle's position, they disagreed.

"As we are all aware, we are funded on a per-pupil basis, and the bulk of that funding comes from Juneau," said Sammy Crawford of the Kalifornsky district. "I believe our efforts in Juneau are critical. And, I think professional development is important. There are other ways we, as individuals, can save money."

Marty Anderson, the new board member from Sterling, said from a business perspective, the budget increase makes sense.

"The reasons for this amendment are commendable, but like a lot of things that look good up front, what are the costs in the end? Students will suffer in the end because we don't have the most current information and a quiver of ideas."

Debra Mullins of Nikiski echoed her colleagues. Mullins served on the board in the 1980s and explained that board members used to receive $200 a month salary. In 1986, the board voted to decrease their own salaries to $180, and board benefits have not gone up since that time.

"I do not believe this board is an extravagant board," Mullins said. "I read in the newspaper recently that the Fairbanks board renewed a contract with their lobbyist for $4,500. We don't have a lobbyist. We do that. I would not deny any of us the opportunity to improve ourselves and get to know our responsibilities.

"When the public voted to increase the board to nine, they knew, the committee and the assembly knew, there were costs associated."

Gilman's amendment to remove travel additions from the budget increase failed 7-2, with she and Holle voting for it. The budget increase as a whole some $25,000 passed 8-1, with only Gilman dissenting.

Superintendent Peterson added that the budget is not the only step in the board transition process. Board members will meet today from 1 to 5 p.m. to review board goals for the coming year.

The district also will spend the next several months reviewing board policy to update language to reflect the new board makeup.

Finally, the district will re-evaluate the role of secretary Sally Tachick, who works half-time for the superintendent and half-time for the board. The addition of new board members has added extra responsibilities for Tachick, but Peterson said no changes to Tackick's position are planned at this time. Rather, Peterson and Tachick are working together to monitor the workload and set priorities for each day.

In other action Monday night, the board:

n Took the oath of office for the new year and elected officers. Deborah Germano of Homer will serve as president. Crawford will serve as vice president. Nels Anderson of Soldotna will be the clerk, and Gilman will be treasurer.

n Presented Golden Apple Awards to Jean Dixon, Kenai Middle School teacher; Jill Ramponi, Soldotna High School teacher; and Matt Walton, Soldotna High School teacher.

n Approved an administrator appointment for Rick McCrum as coordinator of pupil services.

n Approved substitute teacher contracts for Maureen Wilkinson, first grade at Paul Banks Elemen-tary School, and Lori Young, kindergarten at Redoubt Elemen-tary School.



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