Turning the page on 2008

Posted: Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 was a busy year here on the peninsula.

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Clarion File Photo
Clarion File Photo
Mert Stromire walks past signs touting hopefules for the October municipal election and November general election as he makes his way to dinner at Paradisos Restaurant in Kenai on Aug. 27. Politics was a hot topic on the peninsula this year.

Politics grabbed the headlines for much of the year as a record number of voters turned out for the presidential caucuses early in the year. The August primary election included a number of high-profile ballot measures, the October municipal election changed the face of the borough's administration, assembly and school board, and in November voters sent Don Young back to Congress, but replaced Ted Stevens with Mark Begich.

Here on the peninsula, when we weren't talking politics, we were talking about bears, fish and the Kenai River. Human-caused bear mortalities hit a record number this year, the Kenai River sockeye return started strong before faltering, and new regulations governing boat motors were put in place in an effort to reduce hydrocarbon pollution.

This past year saw the last shipment of fertilizer from Agrium, but also the promise of a brighter future as natural gas pipeline proposals take shape. Energy -- and its cost -- has been a constant source of debate.

And the holiday season opened with tragedy when a former employee opened fire at Central Peninsula Hospital.

Here's a look at some of the biggest stories of 2008:

Schools

2008 was a relatively quiet year as early approval of education funding by the Legislature averted mass pink-slipping of teacher. Instead, for the first time in several years, the district was able to look at adding back to programs which have been cut over the years. This year, the district is implementing programmatic staffing, an initiative that focuses on improving pupil-teacher ratios and evaluating what education should look like at each school, relative to size, populations, and programs offered. One goal of the initiative is to provide opportunities for students beyond basic graduation requirements, such as foreign language.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District did make some noise in terms of academic achievment as it made adequate yearly progress under federal No Child Left Behind guidelines for the second straight year.

Three new board members were elected to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education this October. In District 3-Nikiski, Joe Arness won with 55.59 percent of the vote. Arness' opponent, Mike Peek took 43.93 percent of the vote. Penny Vadla won the District 4-Soldotna seat with 49 percent. Two other candidates, Ed Oberts and Rob Lewis, each carrying 14.59 percent and 36.24 percent of the vote respectfully, also contested the seat. Finally, Bill Holt carried District 7-Kasilof with 66.59 percent, while his opponent, Mark Osterman, received 32.73 percent of the vote. A fourth board member Greg Gabriel, was appointed at the Dec. 1 meeting to fill the District 2-Kenai seat vacated in October by Bill Hatch.

Local union bus drivers and attendants voted on Dec. 1 to reject the most recent contract proposal offered by their employer, First Student, and authorize a strike. Teamsters have been in negotiations with the company contracted by the borough to shuttle students to and from school each day in an effort to increase wages, benefits and make changes to safety procedures.

Union drivers have yet to actually go on strike and negotiations between the two sides will continue into 2009.



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