Kenai Peninsula Borough mayoral candidate Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings addresses the KPBSD Board of Education on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Peninsula Borough mayoral candidate Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings addresses the KPBSD Board of Education on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Mayoral candidates reiterate commitment to school funding

Dave Carey, Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings, Zach Hamilton and Peter Micciche spoke to KPBSD Board of Education members

Four candidates vying to be the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s next mayor reiterated their commitment to fully funding the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District during a work session with board of education members Monday.

Dave Carey, Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings, Zach Hamilton and Peter Micciche joined the KPBSD Board of Education members to talk about their priorities if elected. Candidates were given time to provide statements to the board and then the opportunity to respond to questions from the board.

All candidates took time to talk about their connection to the school district.

Farnsworth-Hutchings grew up in Soldotna and said she, her children and her grandchildren are all products of KPBSD schools. Carey is a former KPBSD student who later returned as a high school teacher and wrestling coach. Micciche said his four daughters all attend or attended KPBSD schools. Hamilton’s four sons are home-schooled through IDEA Homeschool.

Carey outlined three programs he would like to implement if elected borough mayor, such as a voluntary pep club for KPBSD staff who have received Golden Apple awards, an after-school program run by retired staff who’ve received Gold Pan awards and a research initiative that would explore the implementation of a 4.5-day school week that would make Friday a flex day. The district presents gold pans to recognize a staff member’s years of service to the district.

“I believe when you bring these groups together focused to help students, you will raise assessment scores,” Carey told board members Monday.

When asked by board member Jason Tauriainen whether they, as mayor, would support the Kenai Peninsula Borough providing the maximum amount of funding allowable to the school district, all said yes.

“Teachers are doing an awesome and important job in our community,” Hamilton said. “I appreciate what they do and I think they need to be shown support by the borough as an organization. One way to do that is to fund to the cap, whatever the maximum allowable amount is.”

KPBSD Superintendent Clayton Holland told borough assembly members last month that the district plans to ask the Kenai Peninsula Borough for a maximum funding contribution for the upcoming fiscal year. A new reduction in state funding for the district means that the amount of money the borough can contribute will go up.

Throughout his mayoral campaign, Micciche has said advocacy must go further and that work at the state legislative level.

“For me, that’s not a fight worth having, because it doesn’t make sense,” Micciche said. “I’m going to support funding to the cap, but it’s not enough … A $13 million shortfall is not going to be covered by funding, so unless something comes through Juneau, we’ve got real problems.”

KPBSD Finance Director Liz Hayes told the board last month that the district is facing a $13.1 million budget deficit for the upcoming fiscal year, which it plans to partially offset with one-time federal COVID-19 relief funds and unassigned fund balance.

Farnsworth-Hutchings emphasized the importance of lobbying the Alaska Legislature for an increase to the base student allocation, which is the per student funding school districts receive from the State of Alaska.

“I’m so delighted that we have two legislators from our area that understand that so well,” Farnsworth-Hutchings said. “Like I said, I have connections across the state. I’ve been working in the Juneau venue for over 20 years, facilitating, listening, collaborating. This is what you have to do if you want to get these things done and that’s who I am.”

The Alaska Senate Education Committee last week introduced a bill that would increase the amount of money Alaska school districts receive per student by $1,000. Education leaders from the Kenai Peninsula are among those advocating for such a bump to that per student amount.

Links to recordings of the board’s Monday meetings can be found on the district’s BoardDocs page at go.boarddocs.com/ak/kpbsd/Board.nsf/Public.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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