The only expected seat swap out this fall on the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education is unrelated to the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Regular Municipal Election.
At the Aug. 8 board meeting, Homer representative Liz Downing announced her resignation planned for Sept. 30, nearly one year shy of the end of her current term. Three of her peers, Dan Castimore, Lynn Hohl and John Kelly, all incumbents, will run unopposed on Tuesday, Oct. 4.
“I will miss having the opportunity to advocate for our kids and having some influence to do that,” Downing said. “This is a position where you can make a difference. That is certainly important to me.”
Downing has served on the board for 11 years, during which time she chaired the school district’s legislative committee, and personally communicated the needs of local staff and students to their state officials. She said it is time now for her to fulfill familial needs. For now, that means travel with her husband, who has been supporting her local endeavors for three decades.
Downing said she has been doing her best to inform the public of her departure, in hopes that someone will step in who can speak on behalf of the South Peninsula community and students, as well as for the entire school district.
“I think the board knows what we can do and where our hands are tied as far as the budget is concerned so I think they are going to make some good decisions,” Downing said.
John “Zen” Kelly, who is the shortest serving member of the board, and also serves residents on the South Peninsula, including areas of Homer, Nanwalek, Port Graham, Seldovia and the Russian Old Believer villages on East End Road, said he is well prepared to handle more expected budget cuts this year. With a strong background in finance, he has been able to add a different perspective to the ongoing fiscal crisis, he said.
Kelly stepped up to the seat in January, after long-time board member Sunni Hilts retired in December of 2015.
Whoever takes over for Downing will go through the same process Kelly did earlier this year of filing an application and interviewing with the board before receiving an appointment.
While Kelly said the past eight months have been “adjustment period,” he’s picked things up much faster than expected, and has been minimally overwhelmed by the workload. He said it has been a shift incorporating the views of many into his decisions on the board, but has tried to get as much constituent and community feedback as possible on contentious issues that come up for a vote.
Kelly said his biggest accomplishment so far was assisting the resolution of the lease agreement between the school district and Voznesenka Community Council Inc. Negotiations lasted nearly two years, and the school was at risk of being shut down before Kelly stepped in. He offered an open ear and fresh perspective to the mix, which “provided the opportunity for everyone to come back to the table and talk again,” he said.
For board member Dan Castimore, who represents Kalifornsky Beach Road area residents, his unfamiliar eye has been a beneficial asset to the seat as well. He was the drive behind the new policies being developed to resolve the school district’s pool operations shortfall. He said he pushed for more realistic, higher use prices, which were in some cases four times less than what is costs to operate the facilities.
The project should be finishing up within the next few months, Castimore said.
The changes have chance to greatly impact the $800,000 deficit the school district’s seven pools run up annually.
Castimore said his main reason for returning to take the seat is the upcoming round of state induced budget cuts that may be grim, but may also force the school district to look more closely at spending.
“I think sometimes budget deficits can produce a more efficient machine,” Castimore said. “Government tends to spend every penny they get.”
There is still a lot more work that needs to be done, he said.
Lynn Hohl could not be reached for this article.
Reach Kelly Sullivan at email@example.com.