With their school days coming to a close, Kenai Central High School seniors are thinking about their futures in Alaska and let Gov. Bill Walker know where their interests lie.
The seniors questioned Walker on everything from Alaska Performance Scholarships to Russian flyovers when he spoke to them Tuesday.
“It’s a great time to be graduating,” Walker told the students. “We have a lot of opportunities in Alaska and a few challenges out there … We have to make some changes in Alaska but we’re making the decisions that we’re making so that your generation can have the opportunities that I have had.”
At the top of the students’ concerns was the future funding of education.
“My biggest concern is probably the education cuts that are being proposed,” said senior Andrew Agosti. “I just want to make sure that all students get the education that they need.”
Walker said he is hopeful that “we are able to implement a financial plan so that every year, we don’t have to worry about next year’s budget for education. That creates uncertainty, which is our biggest problem right now.”
The budgetary issues that Alaska currently faces have been building up for years, Walker said.
“It’s as though I (bought) a car and I pulled the car off the lot. After a few months, the engine blew up. Others say to get a tow truck to tow the car around rather than fix the engine,” Walker said. “I want to tear it apart and fix the engine.”
The students expressed concerns about how educational budget cuts may impact their future, asking if scholarships such as the Alaska Performance Scholarship would be affected by budget cuts.
“It could be … Everything is at play at this point,” Walker said. “I hope that’s one we are able to hang on to because it’s a very good program and a lot of Alaskans are able to go to school because of that program.”
“If anyone has any ideas about what more we can do, please let us know. We’re certainly open to that,” he said.
The graduating seniors also expressed concerns with Alaska’s foreign policies, especially in regard to recent Russian flyovers.
“I get notified whenever that happens and the most recent one was the most significant,” Walker said. “There were five aircraft — two fighter jets, two bombers and one AWACS — and they flew up over the North Slope and then around the Aleutians… The question is why? It’s gotten more aggressive.”
Coupled with the amount of coastline in Alaska, the recent air activity reaffirms the governor’s desire for a naval base in Alaska.
“We’re well protected now, don’t get me wrong, but I think the missing piece is on the water side. It’s a matter of providing a quicker response,” he said.
One senior, Rebekah Weeks, said she is curious about how influencing and creating a bigger military presence in Alaska will affect the state as a whole. Weeks said she is currently on delayed entry for the Navy and will ship out on July 10 after graduating.
“I’m happy with the things he had to say, but saying one thing and doing something are two different things.” Weeks said. “I’m hesitant, but I’m excited to see what he does.”
Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre, Board of Education member Tim Navarre and Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones were also present for the governor’s talk.
“I think it was nice of the governor to stop in and give our students an opportunity to listen to what he had to say,” Jones said. “I think that the quality of the questions that our students asked him are representative of the quality of students that we produce on the Kenai.”
Walker also took the opportunity to impart some advice to the graduating seniors.
“Find out where you want to go, what you want to do and don’t settle for less than what your dreams are,” he said. “And stay in Alaska — don’t leave Alaska.”
Reach Kat Sorensen at firstname.lastname@example.org