The Board of Education approved its list of Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s 2016 state and legislative priorities Monday.
Each section includes four brief items all commonly aimed at protecting access to funding.
“This is really the only page that goes to the (federal) legislators, the state legislators, with our priorities,” said board member Tim Navarre.
The subject of health care costs was the only item that brought about some contention at Monday’s regularly scheduled meeting.
“The cost of health care has been increasing for many years and is a significant part of our budget,” said Superintendent of Schools Sean Dusek, who submitted the revised priorities list. “The board of education is asking the state to look at all options to control these costs.”
The priority titled “control health care costs to school districts,” is directed at the issue of rising annual rates. The school district has actively tried to offset the increases by finding “efficiencies.”
The document approved by the board does not include the support document further explaining the intentions and expectations behind each item. The follow-up will be created by administration once the board approves the priorities, according to the document.
Matt Fischer, chairman of the school district’s health care committee, spoke during the public comment period against the format of the brief.
“The problem I have with this is that it doesn’t have exactly what we are sending to the state,” Fischer said.
Fischer said he was concerned the board was not going to receive “the full information” and that administrators might request a health care plan that could result in school district employees paying more for their medical care. He said the school district has some of the lowest costs in the state.
“If you are looking at number two (on the list), ask for it to go before the health care committee, ask for it to get approval from the health care committee,” Fischer said. “You want to save money in the health care plan and you have to fight for information.”
Navarre said the school district’s legislative committee spent a significant amount of time choosing precise language for the final document. He said he believed it was good enough as written and asked the rest of the board to support it as such. Board member Dan Castimore requested the same.
“No one can argue that the cost of health care is absolutely straining this district,” Castimore said. “We are at $25 million in costs this year. If continued increases in health care continue the way they have been there’s going to come a time when all our money goes to health care, so all we are really asking for here is help.”
The document also supports Alaska’s early learning programs and lifting the five-year moratorium placed on the state’s bond reimbursement program, which made requests for the state’s 70 percent repayment for any borough’s school-related capital projects after Jan. 1 null and void.
“KPBSD’s facilities are aging and many have significant maintenance needs,” the document states. “The KPBSD encourages the Legislature to review existing needs state-wide and reconsider the current moratorium.”
None of the federal items were discussed at the meeting, the first of which requested reauthorization of the Elementary Secondary Education Act, signed and renamed by President George W. Bush in 2002 as No Child Left Behind. The board is also requesting Congress address the significantly higher cost of health care in Alaska and that the Affordable Care Act’s Excise Tax may result in a “substantial cost increase,” to the school district.
Every year the legislative committee reviews the previous year’s priorities and the Association of Alaska School Boards priorities to start drafting the current year’s priorities, said school district spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff. The process begins in July and the deadline is the October regularly scheduled board meeting, she said.
“Our priorities are about adequate, stable forward funding from the state so that we can provide the best possible education for our students with the least amount of disruption,” Dusek said.
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