School board candidates anticipate budget challenges

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Saturday, October 3, 2015 9:06pm
  • News

The three incumbents running unopposed for Board of Education seats face frugal funding in their next terms.

With no challengers on the Oct. 6 ballot, it is likely Liz Downing, representing Homer since 2005, Marty Anderson, representing Sterling and Funny River since 2003, and Tim Navarre, representing Kenai since 2009, will be retaking their seats to address another round of budget constraints trickling down from the state level.

“Our biggest issue will be to maintain and continue to improve quality education in the face of funding challenges,” Downing said. “In the past, there was a belief that the Legislature will always find the funds, but with an economy heavily reliant on one resource that is in flux, we will need creative problem solving and flexibility from everyone to get us through to more stable times.”

To balance the budget in the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years, the board handed down decisions to cut eight full-time certified teaching positions, tap into the Unassigned General Fund Balance, reduce annual spending on services by millions of dollars, and considered closing school-district-owned pools. The trio of returners is expecting much of the same in the upcoming budget cycles.

Navarre, Downing and Anderson have cited the state’s responses to the $3 billion deficit caused by the drop in international oil prices, as their reasons for returning.

“There are complexities requiring folks that don’t need a year-and-a-half to two years to get up to speed,” Anderson said in a previous Clarion interview.

In addition to budget cuts, Navarre said there was another piece of legislation enacted on April 24 that will have an effect on schools. A five-year moratorium was put on school bond debt reimbursement that retroactively made any projects requested after Jan. 1 null and void.

Previously, the state would have funded 70 percent of any improvement or repair projects on school buildings, and the borough would fund the remaining 30 percent, Navarre said.

“It will be an impact over time on how our buildings are maintained,” Navarre said. “It is another important issue we will be addressing in the future.”

The board will be discussing their 2016 state and federal legislative priorities list at Monday’s regularly scheduled meeting. A request to review and reconsider the state’s bond reimbursement program moratorium has been included in a memo submitted by school district Superintendent Sean Dusek.

“KPBSD’s facilities are aging and many have significant maintenance needs,” the memo reads. “In the past the Kenai Peninsula Borough voters have approved bond funding for maintenance projects. KPBSD encourages the Legislature to review existing needs state-wide and reconsider the current moratorium.”

The board will have to approve the entire list. The board is also in charge of approving the annual development calendar, which began in July for the fiscal year 2017 budget cycle.

The board and school district has chosen to put an emphasis on community involvement this time around. Key communicators have been chosen within many communities to act as liaisons between the school district and the public, and district-wide open meetings utilizing video-conferencing technology will be held to further open up the lines for discussion.

“We will together to work with our families, our communities, our schools, and district staff to identify cost savings, advocating for needed funding from the Legislature, work with community partners, and identify new sources of income,” Downing said. “As Gov. Walker is doing, we need to crowd source solutions, identify cost savings, seek additional funding from state and federal sources, grants and community partnerships.”

Both Navarre and Downing singled out early childhood education programs and services as crucial to a successful instructional curriculum. Unfortunately, those are some of the first to go when funds are low, Navarre said.

“Alaska is one of just three states that have reduced funding for early childhood education,” Downing said. “KPBSD has increased Pre-Kindergarten programs with (federal) Title I funds but space is very limited serving only the students in most need. For Alaska education to grow strong, we need to better serve all of our students.”

Alaska, Louisiana and Florida all decreased funding for early childhood education between the 2012-2013 through the 2013-2014 fiscal years, according to the Education Commission of the States.

“It gives the young ones the opportunity to learn early,” Navarre said. “Those programs will improve test scores and the ability to learn.”

Both Downing and Navarre said the school district is one of the highest achieving in the state. The pupil-teacher ratio in local classrooms is low, graduation rates are increasing (now at nearly 82 percent, higher than the national average) and new methods of instruction are being incorporated to keep up with the evolution of modern technology, Navarre said.

“All of our students can succeed given the resources and support needed by each child. To do this we need to reach beyond the school system,” Downing said. “It takes our communities to provide opportunities and resources for strong families so our kids are ready to learn. It takes our colleges to provide the best-prepared teachers and our districts to provide continuing professional development and a supportive work environment. It takes the legislature and governor to allocate and approve funding for effective education strategies.”

 

Reach Kelly Sullivan at kelly.sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com.

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