Borough, voter help sought for student activities

Posted: Wednesday, November 19, 2003

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education on Monday passed a resolution asking the borough assembly to help fund cocurricular activities for students.

The board will ask the assembly to place $1.4 million in a special revenue fund for cocurricular activities -- which include sports as well as other nonclassroom activities such as forensics, band and other academic activities -- for the 2004-05 school year. It also will ask the borough to place an initiative on the next ballot asking voters to support long-term cocurricular funding at up to .5 mills of property tax, or $50 on every $100,000 of property.

In addition, the board will ask the borough to place $1.4 million in the special revenue fund immediately for this year's cocurricular programs.

The proposal, which originally included only 2004-05 funding and the ballot initiative request, came from a task force comprised of board and assembly members, as well as district and borough administrators and legal advisers.

The task force set out this fall to explore alternative funding options for cocurricular activities, taking them out of the district general fund expenditures.

Joe Arness, former board president and the facilitator of the task force, told board members during a work session Monday that the task force explored several options, including outsourcing, private donations and borough funding. However, he said, the borough funding idea was the only one to provide a means of long-term funding.

In addition, he said, task force members spent a great deal of time exploring the legality of the idea, as state law puts specific limits on the amount of money school districts can receive.

Arness said the special revenue fund is in a "gray area," but one that appears legal.

"It appears the proposal, as you see it, would be defensible should the question arise in court," he said.

Now, he said, it's a matter of getting the borough to sign on for the idea.

Arness told the board that one of the assembly members on the task force proposed the district resolution asking for 2004-05 funding for cocurricular activities. The idea is that borough funding for cocurriculars would save the district money in its general operating fund that could be used for other educational expenses. It also means the district would not have to choose between hiring teachers and maintaining the cocurricular activity program.

In addition, the task force came up with the second part of the proposal to ensure long-term funding for the program.

Arness said placing the question on the ballot next fall is "to codify the allocation from the borough to the school district so it happens every year."

"One danger is that it will happen once, but the next assembly won't do it," Arness said. "If it goes to the people, it carries on. And, if it goes on the ballot as a mill rate, it increases, assuming property values on the Kenai Peninsula increase."

Board members seemed pleased with the proposal overall and said they were hopeful the assembly would approve the one-year appropriation. However, board member Sammy Crawford of the Kaliforn-sky district, said she wondered if maybe the district should ask for more.

"Because we have a real problem with money, is there any way we could have the conversation about adding a 2003-04 request for funding?" she asked during the work session.

Later, during the general board meeting, Crawford proposed an amendment to the resolution asking for just that: an additional $1.4 million for the special revenue fund this year.

"Cocurricular activities are short funded," she said. "We know the importance of these activities for all students."

Her fellow board members agreed that the money would be a godsend for the district and for the cocurricular activities program. However, a few took pause at the idea of asking the borough for even more.

"I'm a little uncomfortable because this goes beyond what was discussed (by the task force)," said board member Dr. Nels Anderson of Soldotna, who was a member of the task force. "The borough assembly has been extremely good to us. I hope this isn't interpreted as killing the goose that laid the golden egg."

Board member Margaret Gilman of Kenai also a task force member, agreed.

"I was on the committee because I wanted to see if there was a way to fund cocurricular activities outside the school district budget so we weren't in the Draconian position of having to decide between teachers and activities," Gilman said. "The assembly members have been really, I think, very reasonable. I will vote for the amendment, but I want to send the message that we do appreciate it and we're just looking for every penny we can get."

Likewise, board President Deb Germano of Homer said she is concerned about asking for too much.

But, she said, "It's a conversation I feel we need to have, and if we don't ask, we can't have the conversation.

The amendment, adding a request for 2003-04 funding, passed 8-1, with board member Debra Mullins of Nikiski dissenting.

The resolution, asking for a total of $2.8 million over two years and a ballot initiative for long-term funding, passed unanimously.

Now, board members said, their real concern is what would happen if the question goes before voters.

"The only thing I worry about is what the voters will do," Anderson said. "We're just going to have to trust them."

"We all will have to work very diligently to convince our friends and neighbors and every scraper voter out there (to approve a tax hike for cocurricular activities)," said board member Debbie Holle of Kasilof.

Community members at the board meeting said they, too, support the proposal and several said they would be willing to pay higher taxes for the benefit of students.

"As a property owner, I will vote to increase my taxes," said Peter Klauder of Kenai. "When I moved here in 1990, I would call home and brag about this school district. I was so proud to start my family here. Over the last 14 years, I've watched things gradually but steadily decline. I am more than willing to make sacrifices to continue (the positive aspects of the district)."

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