Alternative high schools may still see cuts

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Monday, March 7, 2016 10:55pm
  • News

It didn’t take much from the principals of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s two alternative high schools to convince most board of education members to leave their staffing levels intact for the next school year.

Two work sessions in February and March were dedicated to discussing whether or not Kenai Alternative and Homer Flex would take some of the brunt of budget cuts. Administrators recommended the board reduce the number of full time equivalent educators by .5 at both sites.

“These are some of the most delicate kids and some that suffer the most,” said board member Penny Vadla Monday.

Vadla said she would not vote to change the board policy that staffs Kenai Alternative at 4.75 FTE regular educators for 85 students and Homer Flex at 2.75 FTE for 50 students, which was one of two ways the schools could lose paid teaching hours. The two alternative schools are the school district’s only sites staffed and funded through board policy.

Vadla said she sees the programs as “a relvolving door of kids that may not be able to be saved otherwise” that produce results strong enough to justify maintaining current staffing levels.

The board members made the decision to not put the proposed revisions to a vote after listening to Loren Reese speak for Kenai Alternative and Chris Brown speak for Homer Flex at the work sessions.

Reese explained the structure of the school, and what factors contribute to the success of the students who don’t fit into a more traditional academic setting.

There are five rotations each year, which are similar to semesters or quarters, for which students can jump in and receive up to 1.5 credits, Reese said. The average student that enters the program is five credits behind, and the rotation system gives them the chance to make up as many as 8.5 credits in one calendar year, he said.

Students come to Kenai Alternative from the Soldotna, Kenai Central and Nikiski high schools, Connections Home School Program, Marathon School, elsewhere from around the state and Outside, Reese said. Right now, 35 to 45 students graduate each year, which is a notable percentage of the school district’s overall graduation rate, he said.

Roughly 40 percent of Homer Flex students graduate on average, Brown said. Homer Flex has a slightly different system for making up credits than Kenai Alternative, he said.

Brown and Reese cautioned that graduation rates aren’t the only way to measure the whether or not a student found success in their programs. Some make up enough credits that they can take part in their previous high schools’ commencement ceremonies, they said. Further, not all students that come through their schools are always on a four-year plan, Brown said.

Reese and Brown also both talked about the extra roles their staff takes to make sure students succeed.

“It’s a story that the statistics don’t tell,” Brown said.

At Brown’s school, staff often connect students with services outside the school such as rehabilitation or mental health centers for those struggling with emotional issues.

“In this way, Homer Flex becomes much more than a place to recover credits,” he said.

While the two principals made a good case, cuts aren’t out of the question just yet.

While most of the board members spoke in favor of maintaining current staffing levels, not all thought the two schools could remain untouched.

Board member Dan Castimore said, while he is a proponent of the two programs, it may be time they take on reductions like every other school in the district is facing next year.

“All other schools are feeling pain,” Castimore said. “They felt pain last year and the year before and will again this year.”

All sites around the school district are set to raise the pupil-teacher ratio if the preliminary fiscal year 2017 Operating Budget passes as is, including more than $3.1 million in reduced funding than was allocated this year.

Kindergarten classes will remain the same, but in large elementary schools the class sizes will increase by one student. At the high school level classes will increase by two students and by one student at the middle school level. Small elementary schools and small schools will also see a one-student increase.

“I am not attacking your program,” Castimore said to Reese. “I appreciate your program a lot. … You guys have skipped a lot of years of reductions.”

Castimore said that he would make an amendment to the budget when the board votes on it in April. He said he plans to propose the board not fund the amount recommended by school district administrators.

Joe Arness said he was unsure if next year was the right time to make any reductions, but he does believe that moment is inevitable.

“It is no secret I am the biggest cheerleader for his bunch,” Arness said. “I know the moment will come, there is no way around it.”

He said he hopes the programs are able to continue to offer the necessary amount of support for their students when the time does come.

Reach Kelly Sullivan at

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