Monthly Archives: February 2014

Testing the balancing — No easy answers in solving school district’s deficit budget

Redoubt Reporter illustration, photo courtesy of Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. Nikiski North Star Elementary School students gather in the library to greet Sen. Lisa Murkowski on a recent school visit. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is facing a $4.5 million deficit at this point in its budget process, causing the school board and administration to be doubly careful in estimating costs — such as deciding school staffing levels — and revenues, which primarily come as a per-pupil allocation from the state. Declining enrollment means declining funding, which necessitates a decline in expenditures.

Redoubt Reporter illustration, photo courtesy of Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. Nikiski North Star Elementary School students gather in the library to greet Sen. Lisa Murkowski on a recent school visit. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is facing a $4.5 million deficit at this point in its budget process, causing the school board and administration to be doubly careful in estimating costs — such as deciding school staffing levels — and revenues, which primarily come as a per-pupil allocation from the state. Declining enrollment means declining funding, which necessitates a decline in expenditures.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s fiscal year 2015 budget is a math problem without an easy solution, and with a timer ticking down to when it needs to be solved. And for the borough’s biggest employer, with 8,000-plus students to educate, there’s a lot more at stake than just a good report card or smiley face on a test paper.

As it stands at this point in the budget process, the district is looking at a $4.5 million deficit for fiscal year 2015, which runs from July 1, 2014, to June 30, 2015, and no magic-bullet way to erase the gap between revenue and expenditures.

“We’re spending more money than we’re taking in. That’s the big picture. We’ve been doing that for a while. We’re now reaching a point where it’s harder and harder to make that work,” said Steve Atwater, KPBSD superintendent.

The finances of the district are as difficult to try and budget as they are complex to balance, as they hinge on funding decisions from state and local government beyond KPBSD’s control that are settled after the district is required to figure its budget for the year. It took Dave Jones, assistant superintendent of KPBSD Instructional Support, about an hour and a half to give just a 10,000-foot-overview look at the budget in a public meeting Feb. 19 at Soldotna High School, explaining the 24-page preliminary budget with which the school board is working, which itself is a condensed version of the 195-page full budget document.

It boils down to a concept any third-grader would be able to figure: Tommy wants to buy a $5 ice cream sundae and only has $2. He’s got two options — come up with more money or find a way to get the sundae for cheaper. So, help a neighbor wash his car for a few bucks, ask his parents for a bump in allowance or raid the $6 he’s got in his piggybank. Otherwise, he might look for the sundae on sale or else scrape off the fudge, nuts and a scoop of ice cream until he can afford what’s left.

But what if Tommy had to wrestle with the sorts of conditions placed on either of those two options that KPBSD does? Sorry, Tommy, but child labor laws prohibit you from working for compensation (public school districts in the state can’t decide to charge admission or otherwise raise money on their own, and aren’t allowed to finish a year with more than 10 percent of the amount it spent the previous year left over). The costs of nuts and whipped cream aren’t getting any cheaper, and neither is the sundae. Think mom (state of Alaska) and dad (Kenai Peninsula Borough) are going to bail you out? Maybe they don’t want to, or can’t afford to, and anyway they told you they’d think about it so quit pestering and they’ll get back to you about your request. Now let’s say Tommy has already ordered the $5 sundae and is realizing his hoped-for monetary solutions might not come through. Looks like it’s the piggybank to the rescue, except Tommy then won’t be able to buy a sundae next week, nor the week after that, or after that.

It’s enough to put a kid off ice cream altogether. Schools districts don’t have the option to throw up their hands or passively pout. Planning must be done. School staffing levels and teacher contracts must be decided in the spring. The school board must pass a budget onto the borough in mid-April, even though the district won’t know for sure its funding at that point, as the Legislature is still in session until April 20, and the borough doesn’t take final action on its budget until June. Plus, the official count of student enrollment doesn’t happen until October, and state funding is allotted based on numbers of students.

“We’re in a really unfortunate sequence of timing in that we need to do this piece (budgeting) now, but the numbers that we plug in, we don’t know what they are. We’re just best-guessing right now. And we’re used to it, but we don’t know. And it’s really frustrating for our principals and for our teachers because they want to set themselves up with everything they can do now for August, so that when we open the doors for school in August we’re in position, but we don’t know how to do that until everybody plays their hands,” Atwater said.

Budgeting by the crystal ball

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Cooper Landing trap flap — Dogs feeling snap of trapping, recreation overlap

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. A hiker and dogs enjoy a clear day in the Cooper Landing area last winter. From November through March, hikers, skiers and others recreating with their pets should be aware of trapping season.

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. A hiker and dogs enjoy a clear day in the Cooper Landing area last winter. From November through March, hikers, skiers and others recreating with their pets should be aware of trapping season.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Having your dog caught in a hunting snare or trap just once is a traumatically memorable experience. Ken Green, of Cooper Landing, has had it happen multiple times, and always in popular recreation areas, not far from a road or trail. On one occasion it was in a conibear — a powerful, snap-type trap, rather than a less-destructive snare — that had long been abandoned.

He is not alone, particularly in an area like Cooper Landing, where tracts of the Chugach National Forest are open to trapping as well as dog-friendly recreational pursuits, like hiking, biking and skijoring.

Last spring he started an online petition through MoveOn.org to, “Demand Alaska legislative attention to the growing safety concerns of unregulated trapping and bear-baiting in residential areas and on multiple-use public lands.” The petition is to be delivered to the state Legislature and Gov. Sean Parnell, and has been signed by people across the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, the Lower 48 and farther abroad. The forum allows signers to post a comment. Some, like Natalia Aulenbacher, of Kenai, propose a specific regulatory change — such as outlawing traps within a quarter mile of a trail and requiring the traps’ owners to post their name and contact information on the trap. Others, like Renee Vincent, of Sequim, Wash., rail against trappers in general:

“This is pathetic! I am so sickened by this neanderthal (sic) thinking and actions that I am EMBARRASSED to be of the same species with these thugs! Evolution train pass them by? APPARENTLY SO! We Demand Alaska legislative attention to the growing safety concerns of unregulated trapping and bear-baiting in residential areas and on multiple use public lands.”

There’s even a voice of dissension, like Ben Sweeney, of Sterling, who states he “signed” the petition only to be able to comment, asking that not all law-abiding trappers who do try to minimize the possibility of catching an unintended species be lumped in with the few bad apples trapping close to homes, roads or trails. While it is “obviously unfortunate and sad when a pet does in fact get caught in a trap and is injured or killed because of it,” and his “heart has gone out to the owners,” he argues that pet owners should safeguard their pets’ safety:

“Take responsibility for your pets and have some sort of control over them. And know that this is public land we are speaking of here and it should be open to us all and free to use how we wish within the limits of the law.”

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View from Out West: Caught up in ice fishing — Preparation big part of looking for fun on the lake

Photos courtesy of Clark Fair, Clark Fair with a haul of trout caught on an ice-fishing trip with his dad in 1964.

Photos courtesy of Clark Fair, Clark Fair with a haul of trout caught on an ice-fishing trip with his dad in 1964.

By Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter

When I was very young, my father was so eager to share with me his love for ice fishing that he was willing to make me miserable in order to help me enjoy the experience.

Actually, Dad didn’t intend to make me miserable, but he was prepared to let me suffer a bit if it meant he could fish a little longer.

That description makes him sound somewhat mean-spirited, and he was not. My suffering usually stemmed from the following facts:

1) I was rarely dressed adequately for the conditions, especially when exposed to those conditions for several hours. Red rubber boots, even those lined with lamb’s wool, and tiny mittens enclosed in plastic shells hold up poorly to the cold emanating from the surfaces of frozen lakes and the frigid air of winter.

2) Telling my father that I could no longer feel my hands and feet was tantamount to whining.

3) Because whining meant that I was not tough enough, and because whining interfered with fishing, whining was not appreciated.

A cool catch on the Kenai Peninsula.

A cool catch on the Kenai Peninsula.

So beneath my flimsy coverings, my dainty digits iced up.

This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy ice fishing. I did, and I still do. But benumbed, grossly whitened fingers and toes hampered my ability to fully revel in the experience. Consequently, I began each adventure with enthusiasm but often concluded it in despair.

Dad was typically apologetic after we had finished trudging to the car from Scout Lake or one of the many lakes along Swanson River Road. When he had removed my boots and mittens and saw what appeared to be Raynaud’s phenomenon, he’d at first say something like, “Why didn’t you tell me it was this bad?” — as if I had been purposely concealing the extent of my misery. But then he’d set about comforting me, rubbing my ghastly extremities, cranking up the heat in the car and

The red of those boots does not indicate heat for Clark Fair on an ice-fishing trip to Scout Lake in 1964. But cold doesn’t freeze out a good time.

The red of those boots does not indicate heat for Clark Fair on an ice-fishing trip to Scout Lake in 1964. But cold doesn’t freeze out a good time.

jamming fresh wool socks over my feet and hands for insulation as I thawed. If I looked pitiful enough, he might even dig out a snack for me from his fishing pack.

But I must admit that, despite the cold, Dad did instill in me a love for ice fishing — not quite the same intensity of his own mania, but a love nevertheless. And I did eventually toughen up, and mature enough to learn to dress myself more warmly.

The oldest photo I have of my father and me ice fishing comes from March 1962, the month I turned 4. Dad is pounding at the lake surface with a long-handled ice-chipper. It must be fairly warm because, although his feet are covered with bunny boots, he has removed his thick jacket and is wearing only thin gloves as he hammers away. I, on the other hand, am wearing red mittens, a thick jacket and baggy insulated pants, and my red rubber boots are sheathed with what appear to be the felt liners from a pair of Sorels. I do not yet look miserable, so I must surmise that we had only recently arrived.

Over the years, I have some fond memories of ice fishing, particularly with my father and brother. I have also enjoyed introducing my children to the activity, watching the sheer joy on their faces as they jerked gymnastic trout through a hole the circumference of a coffee can. The last time I ice-fished with them, we drove all the way out to Paddle Lake, where on a sunny March afternoon both kids caught bigger fish than I did, and there was not a hint of whining to be heard.

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Common Ground: Inner potato — Spud tendencies take root

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham This pike marks the end of the ice-fishing derby for Christine Cunningham, and the beginning of a day of potato growing.

Photo courtesy of Christine Cunningham
This lake trout marks the end of the ice-fishing derby for Christine Cunningham, and the beginning of a day of potato-tendency  farming.

By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter

My eyes were puffy, my lips were chapped and my skin was wind-burned. The past month had been a fishing gauntlet, whether it was for the ice-fishing derby or just for fun. All that was left was for me to catch a pike, and when it hit my lure, I yanked up the little crocodile without so much as a fight. It was 8 a.m., and the next thing I knew I had entered my catch in the derby and was at home with plenty of day to spare.

It all happened so fast, I didn’t have time to think it through. I could have kept fishing, for instance. I could have taken fish photos. I could have smelled a proverbial rose. Instead, no sooner was my fish out of the water, my camp chair was folded, my shanty collapsed and all my gear, tackle and fishing partner were thrown into the sled. I charged across the lake as if it were my morning drive to work. I don’t know how I arrived at home, but somewhere along the way, I’d picked up a latte and a muffin.

My behavior reminded me of a grocery store clerk I met once. He had a ribbon on his apron that showed he was the fastest grocery checker in the store. He told me that he was trying to beat his personal best record. My groceries flew across the scanner faster than I’d ever seen them scanned before. Often, he was so fast that the scanner did not pick up the bar code. My cart-full of groceries was scanned in under a minute, only cost $27.98 and dripped egg yolks.

My focus on quantity wasn’t as intentional as his and, in my case, someone else would likely win the award, but once my mind locked onto catching five species of fish and I’d already caught four, the last fish had to be caught. Little else mattered.

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Art Seen: Art of lifelong learning — KPC students class up art center in annual show

" A Sideways Glance," acrylic, by Sandra Sterling.

” A Sideways Glance,” acrylic, by Sandra Sterling.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Lifelong learning is a valuable approach no matter the subject, but, perhaps, none so much as in art.

The evolution of artwork is as old as cave paintings and stone artifacts, and is constantly expanding. There are endless mediums, styles, techniques and materials to learn, invent, refine and redefine. And an artists’ personal inspiration and need for expression ceases only with their existence. Until then, there’s something to learn at any stage in an artist’s development, from the first time holding a brush to their first career retrospective show, and every point in between and beyond.

Sherri Sather is closer to the latter end of that spectrum. She doesn’t need to take an art class as a med student would an anatomy course. She already is an established artist, experienced in various mediums and successful in showing her work — she’s even had work purchased through the Rasmuson Foundation Art Acquisition Fund. But she learned long ago that there’s always more to learn, evidenced by two of her pieces hanging in a Kenai Peninsula College student art show at the Kenai Fine Arts Center this month.

"Reaching," plaster, by Alex Springer.

“Reaching,” plaster, by Alex Springer.

“It gives you different perspectives, which is really good, and I think just about anybody could benefit from an art class, whether they’re just beginners or not,” Sather said.

Sather, who moved to the Kenai Peninsula in 1971, has been taking art classes periodically for years, since her first spark in art class at Kenai Central High School. Some classes have been at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, while most were at Kenai Peninsula College.

The general idea of an art class is technique. Learn to paint, draw, sculpt, shoot photos, make batik, work with encaustics, or what have you. And that’s certainly part of it, especially in beginner classes. But for Sather, the appeal isn’t so much learning new skills as being challenged to put her skills to new and different use.

“I’ve been taking classes off and on my whole life. It has been really instrumental in me getting my voice in my painting,” she said.

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Plugged In: Learning from mistakes, caught on camera

Art around town:

  • Learn about the surprising historical and economic impact of beer from Soldotna’s own nationally prominent beer writer Bill Howell, with an emphasis on Alaska craft brewers, at 6 p.m. Friday at the Kenai Fine Art Center, 816 Cook Ave. in Kenai, with discussion to follow. This free program is open to the public.
  • March 1 at 4 p.m. is the deadline for submissions for the Kenai Fine Art Center’s 2014 all-media juried art show, with a March 7 opening reception. Well-known Alaskan artist and homesteader Jim Evenson will jury the show. For more information and forms, e-mail to ourkfac@gmail.com.

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

We often learn far more from our mistakes than our triumphs. I had to learn that fundamental lesson yet again last weekend.

By preference, I tend toward still photography rather than video and thus am not as practiced making videos. With our kid Ray playing in the University of Alaska Anchorage orchestra’s spring concert last weekend, you can be sure that I wanted to make the best possible video of her concert. After all, family memories such as these are important to all of us.

Although I had never before been inside the UAA art building’s small concert hall, I assumed that doing a video there would not differ greatly from similar videos previously done at high school concerts. That assumption was definitely wrong. Rather than carrying a large camera bag with several lenses into the building, I simply brought along my Olympus OM-D camera and the 75-mm lens that worked well in the much larger Soldotna High School auditorium.

A 75-mm lens on a Micro Four-Thirds camera has the same magnification/field of view as a 150-mm medium telephoto on a traditional 35-mm film camera. It was definitely too much magnification for such a small space. Although Olympus’ superb 75-mm lens worked OK, it was rather awkward. My lower-magnification 45-mm Olympus lens would have been both more useful as well as easier to use. I should have either first scouted the location or carried both lenses. At least both lenses have a bright f/1.8 aperture that works well in dim lighting.

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Service to love — Grieving family opens hearts, home to vets

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Col. James Halliday leads attendees in the Pledge of Allegiance at a Valentine’s Day dinner for veterans held by Tom and Adele Bearup.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Col. James Halliday leads attendees in the Pledge of Allegiance at a Valentine’s Day dinner for veterans held by Tom and Adele Bearup.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

In love, as in war, there’s no telling what the future will bring, nor the route of the path that will lead there. Sometimes it’s an uneventful hitch at a base in the U.S., or being smitten at first sight and getting hitched as soon as possible, or calculating the odds of success at asking for a date in a precalculus class.

Other times it’s being sent to combat zones in Iraq, Vietnam, Korea or Afghanistan, or reconnecting after a Dear John letter and over 10 years apart, or risking trust on a cocky mechanic after having your heart run over by a man who didn’t understand the concept.

It could be 61-years-and-counting of family life, or it could be a jarring end of life after a mere 29 years.

In either case, you take the leap and try to handle wherever that commitment lands you.

For the veterans at a Valentine’s Day dinner held in their honor Friday near Soldotna, military service took them across the country and the globe, in wartime and peace, for a few years or what turned into careers.

Their love stories were just as varied, if even less predictable.

Alan and Barbra Wills, who live in the Soldotna area, thought their relationship was over when Alan enlisted in the Navy after high school. They met as teenagers growing up in Michigan, exchanging shy looks across the room at a Methodist youth event.

“He lived four hours away. That was long time and long distance back in high school. No long-distance phone calls were allowed in my house. It was tough. We were kids,” Barbra said.

They saw each other sporadically, and Alan got calling cards so he could keep in touch with Barbra. But then came the day he told her he was enlisting after graduation in 1988.

“I was going away,” he said.

“And I didn’t get it,” Barbra said. She came from dairy farmers. The tradition of service in her family was to the livestock and land. “We lived out in the country, he was in the city. It was a whole different thing.

“We were on and off, I never knew what was going on. I hadn’t heard from him, and I started dating somebody else. I dear Johned him,” she said, cringing a bit at the thought of the breakup letter.

Alan served 20 years in the Navy. Barbra got married. Alan got married. Neither marriage lasted. Through that time they kept in touch, and about 12 years ago they reconnected and realized their hearts as teenagers had been onto something their minds hadn’t understood.

“Finally, I got it right,” Barbra said. They got married, moved to Alaska through the company for which Alan works, have twin, 7-year-old girls and have been married 10 years.

“It might have taken us a long time to get here. It should have been 25 years,” Barbra said. “I think the secret is we’re with who God intended us to be with.”

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