Dan Castimore is running for the Kalifornsky Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education seat he currently holds. Castimore is the IT manager for the city of Kenai and has served on the school board for six consecutive years.
When you served on school board, what do you think you were able to accomplish in your role?
I don’t know if there’s anything singular or particular, but I would say we’ve done everything we can to keep our class sizes low, which is not something that’s easy to show off. This is not a shiny project, but the fact we’ve been able to keep our PTR — which is the number of kids in each classroom — low, has definitely been a victory for us here.
Why are you running?
This is the third time I’ve run. I’ve really enjoyed being on the school board. Both of my parents were teachers in this district. My wife is a certified teacher, and she subs here. Both of my kids go to school here. I feel like I have something to give back and I’ve enjoyed doing it and I’d like to continue to do it.
What do you hope to accomplish should you be elected to the school board?
Continuing to work through the difficult time that is to come. There’s no doubt the next couple of years will not be better than the last couple. Everything in Juneau points to a cut in funding. This is the first year the borough has basically funded us to the cap, a couple hundred thousand short of the cap, but it’s the first time in a long time they’ve basically funded us to the cap. Unfortunately, this means they don’t have more money to give us now. We’ve always been able to go back to them and they’ve always been able to be a hero. It’s no longer going to be the case. It’s definitely going to be a challenging few years. There’s a good chance we’re going to be looking at consolidating some schools. We’re probably going to have to consolidate some programs. It’s going to be challenging. It’s not going to be the most fun time, but I think I still have something to give. It takes a long time to learn about all the systems the district has in place and the ways that funding mechanisms work and I feel like I’m finally getting to the point where I’m knowledgeable enough to move forward effectively.
What sort of challenges does the school district face in the next three years, and how do you hope you can address those issues?
Finances are going to be a major challenge. Like everything, every year, the prices keep going up. Every year we get the same or less. It’s challenging to try and do the same good job we have been doing, when basically you have less money.
With limited funding coming from the state and borough, how should the school board work to create a balanced budget?
I think we’ve always created a balanced budget. We don’t have the ability to deficit spend. We’ll use fund balance and we’re going to continue to use fund balance. The contract we negotiated is going to require us to use quite a bit of our fund balance over the next few years.
The district lost a record number of teachers and staff last year. What can the district do to attract and retain the best educators?
I think a large reason we had — and it’s not a popular thing to say — but the large reason we had so much turnover was we had teachers vote to go on strike in May. I don’t know that a lot of teachers would look for employment in a district where the teachers voted to go on strike. Truthfully, we didn’t lose that many. People make it sound like we lost all these teachers. We average 70 teachers a year in turnover. I believe this year we were closer to 90. But, it’s not like we lost three times as many as we typically lose. It’s also the first time in a long time we’ve had positions not all filled. Once again, I think a lot of that is because it was a very tumultuous time here. I wouldn’t want to be taking a new job in a district where everyone was embroiled in strike talks. I can tell you that looking at the compensation we offer and being intimately familiar with our contract — everyone likes to make it sound like we don’t compensate our teachers well. When you compare us to other districts in the state, we’re where we should be. We can’t always be at the top, but we’re certainly not at the bottom. I think a lot of it is the fact that the economics of this state are not great right now. All the stuff coming out Juneau, ‘let’s cut everything,’ that’s causing a lot of people to rethink if they want to be in the state. I don’t know how much of that has to do with the district as opposed to just the general feeling of the state right now.