Category Archives: Kenai Peninsula Borough School District

Budget cuts will hit classes — School district expects to learn to do with less

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Years of budget cutting and deficit spending have left the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District with no easy answers for how to avoid impacting instruction next year.

Behind door No. 1 — hope for a little more, or at least the same level of funding from the Legislature as last year, which is not a sure bet, given the state’s increasingly dismal budget prospects in the face of low oil revenues.

Behind door No. 2 — pull more money from its savings to cover shortfalls. But after four years of deficit spending, the district’s general fund account is not as robust as it once was, and there doesn’t appear to be any immediate turnaround of the state’s fiscal fortune on the horizon.

Door No. 3 is more budget cuts. After cutting over $1.2 million two years ago and over $1.3 million last year, there are no more relatively easy cuts to make.

“This isn’t the first year we’ve seen problems coming,” said Dave Jones, assistant superintendent of instructional support. “We’ve tried to make cuts as far from the classroom as we can to try to protect instruction. We’ve been at it now for two years, this will be the third year, so the things that are away from classrooms that we can cut are pretty much gone and unfortunately we’re going to have to cut in the classroom.”

In November, the school board decided to pull no more than $1.3 million from savings for next year’s budget and set a preliminary budget that cuts just about $4.6 million, leaving itself some wiggle room in case state and local funding are reduced.

The biggest chunk of that is 25.65 full-time-equivalent teachers, one counselor and two school administrator positions, to the tune of $2.5 million. Jones said that 12 of those teacher positions were already slated for reduction. They were added last year thinking school enrollments would be higher than they ended up being. The rest are coming from reductions in pupil-teacher ratios, meaning bigger classes. Kindergarten classes won’t be affected, but pupil-teacher ratio changes will be applied across all other grade levels and schools across the district.

Supplies, travel, technical, software and equipment at the district office level are reduced $415,000. District office is also taking a cut of 5.26 positions. Jones said they hope to achieve those reductions by not filling vacancies from retirements and people moving.

“They’ve looked at what departments were added to, if the things that were added can go back away,” Jones said. “A lot of people looking at, ‘OK, here’s what we have, here’s what they do, what can we do without? Can we not replace that position and consolidate duties?”

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Contract talks resume — School district, employees seek agreement before having to go to arbitration

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Ranada Hassemer, an interventionist at Redoubt Elementary School, waves a sign at passing motorists on K-Beach Road on Oct. 14 in support of teacher and support staff associations in continuing contract negotiations with the school district.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Ranada Hassemer, an interventionist at Redoubt Elementary School, waves a sign at passing motorists on K-Beach Road on Oct. 14 in support of teacher and support staff associations in continuing contract negotiations with the school district.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District teachers and support staff took to street corners Oct. 14, waving at cars and holding signs seeking support in continued contract negotiations with the school district.

“I just think teachers and support, certified and classified staff deserve a fair contract and a decent living wage. And we think it’s important, and we want it to be over and have a set contract,” said Megan Murphy, who works at Soldotna High School.

The contract under negotiation was supposed to take effect at the beginning of this school year, but employees are working under the terms of the previous contract until this one gets hammered out. This is Murphy’s first time through a round of negotiations in KPBSD, but she grew up in the area with her mom working for the district, and remembers past negotiations almost coming to a strike.

“It definitely makes you feel a little, definitely not valued, to be honest,” she said. “I think that we all work here, we’re for the kids, but it’s nice to be able to go to work and know that your district supports you and is willing to pay you at cost and a good wage.”

From left, Tamra Wear, Megan Murphy, LaDawn Druce and Patti Sirois rally for support of school district employees in continued contract negotiations at the intersection of K-Beach and Poppy Lone on Oct. 14.

From left, Tamra Wear, Megan Murphy, LaDawn Druce and Patti Sirois rally for support of school district employees in continued contract negotiations at the intersection of K-Beach and Poppy Lone on Oct. 14.

At 4:30 p.m., demonstrators stationed themselves in front of the George A. Navarre Borough Building and at the “Y” intersection in Soldotna, at Bridge Access and the Kenai Spur Highway intersection in Kenai, and at the Poppy Lane-Kalifornsky Beach Road intersection, ahead of the bargaining meeting at 5:30 p.m. called by the employee associations.

It’s shaping up to be a repeat of the previous round of negotiations, which started in winter 2012 and concluded with arbitration 14 months later. LaDawn Druce was the president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association during the last round of negotiations. She was holding a sign at K-Beach as a school district employee this go-around, now working as a high school counselor.

“We made these signs three years ago. Time to get use out of them again,” she said.

Patti Sirois, president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Support Association, said she’s frustrated with the negotiations process.

“It’s really disheartening because it seems like every time we negotiate we are out on the street corner waving our hands, and it shouldn’t be that way,” she said. “The children are our future, our community, and we’re a big part of this community as educators and support staff and we deserve at least the respect of negotiations.”

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Budget brainstorms — School district enlists community help in preparing for cuts

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is facing some difficult budget decisions for next fiscal year and needs your help to make them.

Twenty-two schools across the district hosted budget meetings Thursday evening, to share information about the district’s financial situation and request input on what should be done to cover the more than $3 million shortfall expected in next year’s budget.

“We want as much input as we can get so that we can make good decisions for our kids,” said Superintendent Sean Dusek.

He and Dave Jones, assistant superintendent of instructional support, gave an overview of the district’s expenditures and revenues, and how the former is outpacing the latter. The district gets the majority — about 64 percent — of its general fund operating money from the state. That amount was cut last year and looks like it will at least remain decreased this year, if not be cut further.

“We know, based upon what’s coming out of Juneau from the governor, the Legislature, that the fiscal climate is actually getting worse. We are anticipating some additional reductions from the state,” Dusek said. “… We hope not, but the situation is not good from Juneau.”

The Kenai Peninsula Borough contributes about 35 percent, which equated to about $48 million in this year’s budget. About 36 percent of the borough’s contribution is from property taxes, and 64 percent from sales taxes.

“So that’s why in the summer when I go to the grocery store and have to stand in line behind a bunch of tourists and a bunch of dip-netters from Anchorage, I just smile and say, ‘Hey, thanks for coming,’” Jones said. “Because that’s where a lot of that money comes from, and I appreciate that.”

Where does that money go? Most of it, 81 percent, is spent on salary and benefits — in other words, teachers, administrators, support staff and other personnel. The remaining 19 percent covers everything else — utilities, travel, supplies, technology, curriculum materials, and so on.

That’s the first area of the budget to be looked at when reductions need to be made, but can only be cut so much.

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Firsthand egg take on fishing knowledge —  Students learn about life cycle in school salmon program

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Addison Havrilla, a third grader from Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School, touches a coho salmon during the annual “egg-take,” which took place along the bank of Bear Creek near Seward last Tuesday and the Anchor River last Wednesday. The events were part of the “Salmon in the Classroom” program, presented by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Aquatic Education program and the Kenai Peninsula School.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Addison Havrilla, a third grader from Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School, touches a coho salmon during the annual “egg-take,” which took place along the bank of Bear Creek near Seward last Tuesday and the Anchor River last Wednesday. The events were part of the “Salmon in the Classroom” program, presented by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Aquatic Education program and the Kenai Peninsula School.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

“Why don’t salmon have eyelids?” It may sound like the start of a joke but was a real question, one of many asked and answered during this year’s Salmon in the Classroom program, presented by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Aquatic Education program and the Kenai Peninsula School District. The program took place along the banks of Bear Creek near Seward on Oct. 6 and the Anchor River on Oct. 7.

For the record, the answer is because they live in a liquid environment, so their eyes don’t dry out.

That’s a concept some of the students participating had never considered, which is partially the point of the program — to get kids thinking about the aquatic animals that many have spent their lives around, yet never really learned the basics about.

“It’s cute some of the things that they think and say when we start going over salmon identification, biology, life cycles and habitat requirements,” said Jenny Cope, a Fish and Game sportfish biologist from the Soldotna office.

During the course of the two-day egg take, Cope said that she hears just about every question imaginable, this year from about 300 students at Bear Creek and 400 at the Anchor River, as well as some reasonably well-thought-out, though still incorrect, answers to her own queries.

“No, it’s not fertilizer the male puts on the eggs,” she said at the Anchor Point location. “No, it’s milt with a ‘T,’ not milk that comes out of the males,” she corrected another. “Yes, there is a king salmon, but no, there is no queen salmon,” she added later.

While the kids were a little unclear how it all worked at the beginning of the day, seeing — and for a lucky few students — feeling how the process of salmon egg fertilization works became as clear as crystal creek water.

“We hope that this is memorable for them,” Cope said.

What wouldn’t be memorable about seeing a plump-bellied, ripe and ready-to-spawn female coho salmon sliced open and her thousands of fluorescent pink eggs plopped into a clear plastic bucket, followed by a crimson-colored male fish massaged down his large abdomen until he squirts a creamy stream of milt onto the eggs.

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Happy 50th KP you and me — Borough, college, school district celebrate golden anniversary

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Kenai Peninsula College Director Gary Turner points toward the new Career and Technical Center and the residence hall at KPC while talking about how far the education institution has come in the past 50 years during a golden-anniversary celebration for KPC, the Kenai Peninsula Borough and school district held Thursday at the college.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Kenai Peninsula College Director Gary Turner points toward the new Career and Technical Center and the residence hall at KPC while talking about how far the education institution has come in the past 50 years during a golden-anniversary celebration for KPC, the Kenai Peninsula Borough and school district held Thursday at the college.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

It’s been said that from humble beginnings, great things will grow, and these words appropriately describe the inception of the Kenai Peninsula Borough and school district, as well as Kenai Peninsula College — all of which celebrated their 50th anniversary last week during a barbecue at KPC.

It can be difficult to imagine how far these entities have come and how much the entire area has grown, especially since many current residents are more recent transplants to this area. The landscape was much different in 1964, when only around 12,000 people called the peninsula home, versus the roughly 58,000 living here in 2014.

“Fifty years ago it was a very rural community with only the main highway being paved and most of the other roads gravel. There were no stoplights, because there was a lot less traffic,” said borough Mayor Mike Navarre.

It was black gold that led to much of the growth of this area, he said.

“A big reason why we were finally approved for statehood was because of the Swanson River oil discovery,” Navarre said. “That was an indication, to Congress, that Alaska would have the financial resources to afford some of the costs of government. Of course, that’s what drove the initial growth of the Kenai Peninsula during the 1960s — oil development both on and offshore.”

It took a lot of people to work the oilfields, wellheads and processing centers.

“The population grew pretty fast during the mid to late ’60s and early ’70s, driven by the jobs associated with oil development, including the Swanson River Fields, platforms in Cook Inlet, Union Chemical (Collier/Agrium) fertilizer plant, Phillips LNG plant, Tesoro and related infrastructure (docks and service companies),” Navarre said. “Of course, economic growth spurred population growth and the need for housing developments, schools, airport expansion, the hospital, etc.”

Navarre remembered that when he was in junior high, students were managed in a split shift because the student population exceeded the space available at that time. This swelling of students led to many changes in the school district.

From roughly 2,600 students in a handful of classrooms in 1964, the school district has grown to 8,932 enrolled students in 44 schools covering 25,600 square miles, a land area roughly equivalent to the size of West Virginia.

“When you review the various bits of information that are available about what things were like for our schools 50 years ago, you can quickly discern the KPBSD was a much different district than it is today,” Superintendent Steve Atwater said.

“One of the more telling differences of then and now is that the budget for January until June of 1964 was only $23,000,” he said. “Today, that amount is about what we spend in 20 minutes of a school day.”

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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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School board dives into pool issue — Skyview facility to close unless funding found

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Special Olympics athlete Bryce Braun is all smiles while taking part in a swimming practice for the Central Peninsula Special Olympics Team at Skyview High School in April. He is aided by Alanna Hutto.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Special Olympics athlete Bryce Braun is all smiles while taking part in a swimming practice for the Central Peninsula Special Olympics Team at Skyview High School in April. He is aided by Alanna Hutto.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

On paper, closing the Skyview pool makes financial sense.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is facing a projected shortfall of at least $3.4 million next year, or as much as about $4.6 million factoring in costs of salary increases and depending on how state and borough funding shakes out. The annual cost of maintaining the pool is about $170,000, with another $80,000 scheduled to be spent this summer on a filter overhaul.

Kenai only has one pool. Soldotna has two. With the upcoming reconfiguration of Soldotna-area schools, Skyview will become the area’s middle school. Currently, students take swimming in high school.

With the majority of the district’s budget allocated to pay personnel, it’s tough to find places to cut that don’t involve teachers and other staff. The pool is used by the community as well as the school, but the district’s first priority is to its students.

“The pool is a positive place, and it’s an unfortunate situation we’re placed in, but we’re charged with doing what we can for children, not citizens who want to swim laps, so we’re doing what we can with the kids in mind. We’re not required to teach swimming — we’d love to, but we’re not mandated to. And the bottom line is there are two pools within a two-mile area and we can meet our mission’s goals with the kids at the (Soldotna High School) pool,” said Steve Atwater, KPBSD superintendent.

But to those who want to keep the pool open, doing so makes sense apart from budgets, as they see value beyond just dollars and cents.

“Kids need to learn how to swim and SoHi pool can’t accommodate all the swim lesson needs that we have here. I know people who currently drive to Homer to use the pool because the ones here are closed on weekends. Also, Skyview is used by many for rehab purposes, and so many people benefit from low-impact exercise. And swimming is such an important aerobic activity for your heart,” said Patty Moran, of Soldotna. “We need to be promoting healthy communities here on the peninsula. Taking away one of our huge resources for that is really unthinkable. Many people’s lives will be negatively impacted by the loss of that pool. It makes no sense at all,” she said.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is holding public budget meetings at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 18 in the Seward High School library, 5:30 p.m. Feb. 19 in the Soldotna High School library and 5:30 p.m. Feb. 25 in the Homer High School library. Anyone interested is encouraged to attend one of the meetings. For more information, contact Lassie Nelson at 714-8838.

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