By Jenny Neyman
In a fiscal climate of cutbacks and reined-in spending, Gov. Walker’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2017 does still include a big-ticket capital project on the Kenai Peninsula — $10.8 million for building a new school at Kachemak Selo.
The budget still has to go through the Legislature, but the fact that it’s even in the governor’s budget is good news for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and the tiny community at the head of Kachemak Bay, which struggles to educate the school’s just under 60 students in inadequate and deteriorating leased buildings. The project tops the statewide school construction needs list.
But when the school district’s capital projects priority list — with K-Selo at the top — came before the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly last week, the project almost didn’t make its way on to the Legislature.
Assemblyman Brent Johnson said he had considerable heartburn about the estimated $16 million price tag for the new school and the fact that the state funding would only cover a little over $10 million of the cost. That would obligate the borough to come up with the rest. He proposed amending the school district’s capital projects wish list to remove the K-Selo project before sending it along to the Legislature.
“To build the school, it’s over $250,000 per student. And the bottom line is I just don’t think that either the state or the borough can afford to build the school at that price,” Johnson said.
Assembly President Blaine Gilman said that modifying the school district’s priority list would be unprecedented, but that he was not comfortable with the possibility of having to come up with the extra money.
“We don’t have it in our general fund, we don’t have it in the school district’s general fund. And so we’ll be in the situation, either we’ll reject the money from the state, not accept it, or we’ll have to put it out for a bond. And a bond issue will not pass for this school, in my opinion,” Gilman said.