Bruce jaffa waits in line to speak to Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly against closing Moose Pass School, on Tuesday, April 2, 2019 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Bruce jaffa waits in line to speak to Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly against closing Moose Pass School, on Tuesday, April 2, 2019 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

Community defends small schools

‘As a parent, I think my biggest situation is the increased road time my kids will be subjected to.’

Parents and community members living near Moose Pass School and Nikiski Middle-High School are speaking out against cuts to education funding and potential school closures.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has said if Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget passes, it could result in the closure of six schools in Moose Pass, Seward, Nikiski, Homer, Soldotna and Anchor Point.

At the March 25 Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education meeting, more than a dozen parents, students and educators from Anchor Point’s Chapman School spoke to the school board in support of keeping their school open. At the end of the meeting, board member Dan Castimore noted he hadn’t heard much input from the other schools on the potential closure list.

“It means one of two things,” Castimore said. “It means people at the other locations don’t think we’re serious, and if that’s the case I would implore you to consider that we are very serious. Also if nobody knows those communities care, that’s certainly going to have an impact.”

Amber Douglas from Nikiski was at the March 25 meeting but said she was there to listen. At Monday’s school board meeting, she decided to speak up.

“I appreciated (Castimore’s) comments about our school not being represented at that time,” Douglas said. “I just wanted to let you know we were represented, but I felt that my purpose that night was to be a good listener.”

Douglas, who has three children in Nikiski, went on to tell the board that she believed Nikiski Middle-High School would not make a good candidate for closure.

“Busing 350 kids 35 miles into Kenai for school presents increased road risk exposure for accidents, and if I look at that paired with a 70% reduction in emergency services, that’s kind of a perfect storm for a really huge tragedy in terms of losing high school kids,” Douglas said. “

Douglas said she would personally prefer a 25% cut to all schools and programs, and more information about the four-day school week.

Jason Aigeldinger from Moose Pass is also worried about the long bus rides his two first graders could have to take if Moose Pass School closes.

“As a parent, I think my biggest situation is the increased road time my kids will be subjected to,” Aigeldinger said. “That’s a lot of time on the bus. There’s been a bit of research done on it, about how it decreases academic performance.”

During his public comment, Aigeldinger brought the school board a proclamation from 2010. The proclamation, from then Gov. Sean Parnell, notes the Moose Pass School as the oldest continuously used school on the Kenai Peninsula. The school has been in the same site since 1930 when it opened as a territorial school.

“The big thing I want to drive home is we’re really happy with our education experience down at the Moose Pass School and we would like to continue to see it operate,” Aigeldinger said. “We’re 89 years in guys. Think about that. We run pretty lean and we work with what we’re given and we’ll continue to do that. The only thing I ask folks is that we have the ability to operate on that site.”

Bruce Jaffa is a local business owner in Moose Pass. His children, who are now grown, attended Moose Pass School. Jaffa told the school board he wanted them to pay special attention to small schools on the peninsula.

“Closing this school is not only morally wrong it’s bad policy,” Jaffa said. “These schools were started with pride as pioneer Alaskans created communities and set their roots.”

Jaffa used Dunleavy’s words and asked the school board to “stand tall” for small schools and education funding.

“We and you must stand tall to tell the representatives strongly and clearly that cuts to our school funding, changes to our student-teacher ratio and closures of small schools is not acceptable and is short-sighted,” Jaffa said.

Carole Strickland raised her kids in Nikiski. They are no longer students, but Strickland now spends her time substitute teaching at Nikiski Middle-High School. She said closing the Nikiski school could worsen present issues within the community.

“We have a lot of students with insecure food sources and insecure housing and as a community, we do what we can to help them,” Strickland said. “If we move these students and close Nikiski High School I fear that problem will get compounded and they might not get as cared for if they are in a bigger class in a bigger school, and they will fall through the cracks.”

No schools are set to close at this time, and district cuts are dependent on the amount of funding they receive from the borough and state.

While the Alaska House Finance Committee combs through the budget, the amount of funding the district will gain from the state this year remains unclear.

More in News

Hundreds gather for the first week of the Levitt AMP Soldotna Music Series on Wednesday, June 7, 2023, at Soldotna Creek Park in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna music series kicks off with crowds, colors and sunshine

A color run took off ahead of performances by Blackwater Railroad Company and BenJammin The Jammin Band

Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Finance Director Liz Hayes, left, testifies before the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly during a budget work session on Tuesday, March 14, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Assembly passes borough budget

The document fully funds borough schools and includes a decrease in property taxes

The George A. Navarre Kenai Peninsula Borough building. (Peninsula Clarion file photo)
Assembly shrinks borough planning commission

The planning commission is responsible for planning the “systemic development and betterment” of the borough

The Sterling Highway crosses the Kenai River near the Russian River Campground on March 15, 2020, near Cooper Landing, Alaska. (Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Russian River Campground reopens for 2 summer months

Reservations for campsites can be made online

Kristin Lambert testifies in support of funding for the Soldotna Senior Center during an assembly meeting on Tuesday, June 6, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
After leadership change, borough funds Soldotna senior center

The Soldotna City Council in May voted to defund the center for the upcoming fiscal year

Signs direct visitors at Seward City Hall on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021, in Seward, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
5 vying for Seward city manager gig

The Seward City Council will convene for a special city council meeting on June 12 to review candidates’ applications

Alaska State Troopers logo.
Soldotna resident found dead in home

He was found Monday morning

Dr. Katherine Ortega Courtney speaks during the 100% Alaska Community Town Hall on Saturday, June 3, 2023, at Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
100% Alaska survey results, state of services discussed at town hall

Change 4 the Kenai leads conversation about access to mental health, housing, transportation

Soldotna High School senior Josiah Burton testifies in opposition to a proposed cut of Kenai Peninsula Borough School District theater technicians while audience members look on during a board of education meeting on Monday, March 6, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Awaiting state funding, board of ed works to bring back staff positions

Alaska lawmakers this session passed a budget bill that includes $175 million in one-time funding for Alaska’s K-12 schools

Most Read