Benjamin Miller is running against Jennifer Waller for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s Sterling/Funny River seat. He’s a graduate of Homer High School and currently works as a refinery operator for Marathon Petroleum. He has two kids, one who is school-aged, and described the previous school year as a “disservice” to students.
Miller said during an interview at the Clarion offices on Sept. 23 that he is running for a seat on the school board to ensure the seat is filled with someone who represents the area. He said that he understands the difficult situation the school board was in during the 2020-2021 school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that student learning was lost because of mitigation protocols.
“They were put in a bad position,” Miller said. “That’s not generally what people sign up for school board — to do health mandates. I think they way overshot on the safe side and way undershot on the teaching kids.”
Miller said he doesn’t agree with the implementation of universal indoor masking at some district schools and that whether or not a student wears a mask should be up to their parents. He also described weekly antigen testing, discontinued earlier this school year, as “way over the top.”
“I do think a lot of current COVID mitigations are feel-good political posturing, and I think that’s going to cascade into a lot of things for the district,” Miller said.
He added that while he thinks school board members are working to bring together people on both sides of divisive issues, it isn’t their place to do so. Even though responsibility for the district’s COVID-19 mitigation plan shifted from the board to Superintendent Clayton Holland this year, Miller said he doesn’t think the board’s “public image” has changed.
He described himself as fiscally conservative in his candidate statement, and said he approves of the district’s use of federal COVID-19 relief funds for the overhaul of schools’ HVAC systems, but that he’d like to see future funds used for one-time projects instead of those that may require upkeep and, therefore, a longer financial commitment.
“I don’t really think it should go to fund programs as much as one-time purchase items,” Miller said of relief funding.
Similarly, Miller said he doesn’t think the district should put school maintenance projects out to bond, but rather explore more state or federal funding opportunities. The Kenai Peninsula Borough has tried to negotiate down its financial contribution to the construction of a new school in Kachemak-Selo, toward which the state has committed $10 million. The borough’s $5 million match was defeated by voters when put out to bond.
“Those are things that the district needs to plan ahead and budget for, not just wait until it’s an expense and then charge the taxpayers more,” Miller said. “Already, the majority of our property taxes here go to the school district, and as far as districts in the nation go, it’s a very well-funded district.”
Ultimately, Miller said his priority was making sure the vacancy was filled by someone who represents Sterling and Funny River residents.
“I’m just a concerned father and there was a vacancy that needed to be filled,” Miller said. “We wanted to make sure we got like-minded people that actually represent the area in there.”
The municipal election is on Oct. 5.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org.