Kenai Peninsula Board of Education members sat down with Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, to ask him about the upcoming legislative session — set to convene on Jan. 21. The following are paraphrased questions from school board members and Chenault’s answers.
Q: What are we looking at this year?
“I don’t know, it’s a new administration with new people.”
Q: Is there anything, in specific, that we’ve been lacking in the past years that you’d like to see from us?
“No, what’s lacking is the legislature’s ability to decide what they want to do. In all reality, we beat you guys up because we want higher graduation rates, you give us higher graduation rates and you want more money. We can’t tell you what we want to see and that’s a big one. We can’t tell you what we want and until we can tell you what we want, how can we hold you responsible for achieving those goals with whatever money happens to be available?”
Q: Has anybody thought about dipping into the state’s pockets to deal with deferred maintenance and infrastructure and giving the state an incredible economic boost? Some of the issue that we have are going to end up in court costing us money.
“Here’s the big problem. It depends on what you think about deferred maintenance? When was the last time the Kenai School District got money for deferred maintenance.”
Q: The state would benefit from (deferred maintenance spending) and what’s good for the state is good for us. What about spending on social programs that could help us save money in the future?
“In my tenure as a legislator, I have heard more sales pitches about ‘if we do that program, it’s going to save us. I have yet to see any one of those programs come back and say ‘here’s the money we saved.’ Not a one.”
Q: It comes back to not having to spend it.
“You could argue that. But, our spending goes up for social programs every year. You can tell me it didn’t go up as high this year because of a program, but it goes up every year.”
Q: (The cost of) your pizza goes up every year.
“It doesn’t go up every year. But, yeah, I mean we’ve have spent some exorbitant amounts of money on capital projects throughout the state that have kept Alaska out of the doldrums as far as what the rest of the U.S. has seen in the last recession. I think that helped, but the problem is that the state doesn’t have the money to do that and how do you justify spending that money. At the rate we’re going, in four or five years, that’s what the bean counters say, we’ll be out of money if we keep spending at the rate we are.”
Q: What are you hearing on education-related bills? Are you hearing on some that are getting ready to be filed?
“Nothing probably new. I suspect that somebody is going to probably throw a (base student allocation) bill out there. There’s talk in some circles about an insurance pool. There’s some talk out there that if the state’s paying the bill, the state ought to be negotiating the (teacher’s) contracts. There’s different ideas out there, nothing new.”
Reach Rashah McChesney at firstname.lastname@example.org.