As the month of April approaches, so does the next Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education meeting where members will have to approve a budget for the 2014-2015 school year.
The district is facing a $4.5 million funding gap between revenues and expenditures. In addressing that shortfall, the board did not include money for the Skyview High School pool — $180,000 — in the budget.
More than a dozen members of the community spoke at the board’s Feb. 3 meeting about the future of the pool with most of them voicing their desire to see it stay open. One of the common reasons pool proponents want the facility to remain open is because they view it as a valuable community resource.
At the Feb. 26 Soldotna City Council meeting, Mayor Nels Anderson informed the council the KPBSD administration asked if the city would consider contributing $50,000 to keep the pool open for a year.
While it’s not an agenda item for tonight’s council meeting, Anderson said he plans to talk about the pool in his Mayor’s Report.
“Basically what we will do is put that in as a budget item for next year, assuming that the council members don’t object to it,” Anderson said. “And if they object to it then we’ll bring it up to a formal vote, otherwise we’ll just stick it in as a budget item.”
Anderson said he hopes with the city’s contribution, residents will be able use the pool at no cost when it is available for free swim. He said he sees the pool as a community resource and many residents use the pool for physical therapy and other health reasons.
“There’s a lot of ability to use it for other things and have community use it for learn to swim and those sorts of things,” he said. “And it’s just a valuable resource, in my opinion, as a public service thing for the whole community and the whole area — not just the City of Soldotna.”
Community members are also showing their support to keep the facility open by signing a petition at Sweeney’s Clothing in Soldotna. Owner Mike Sweeney presented the board with more than 200 signatures at its March 3 meeting. He said the petition, which has been available at his store for more than a month, has more than 500 signatures total.
“There’s a lot of people that are concerned and don’t want to see this pool end,” Sweeney said. “There’s a good chance that it might be saved, but we don’t know what direction they’re going to go.”
Superintendent Dr. Steve Atwater said that the community has shown a lot of support for keeping the pool open. However, he said the pool’s primary function is to serve students, not the community.
He said user fees only cover costs for the lifeguard and chemicals. Heating the pool is a big expense.
“It’s not a matter of increasing the user fee by a dollar to make ends meet,” he said. “… It’s hard for the public to understand that because they feel that, if they spent five bucks to swim there, that should cover it, but really it doesn’t.”
Atwater said administration has also approached Central Peninsula Hospital about contributing to keeping the pool open.
Hospital CEO Rick Davis did not immediately return phone calls from the Clarion about where CPH is in its consideration of putting up money for the facility.
Atwater said the district didn’t ask for a specific amount from either agency, but if one of both of them commit to providing some funding it could lead to changes in how the pool is operated.
“It could well lead to designated time being reserved for a specific group,” Atwater said. “I know the hospital is interested in physical therapy use. And it maybe that there’s a dedicated time for physical therapy at the pool as a result of the financial support.”
Atwater said the district needs to know each agency’s decision by next week to better determine what the viable options are for the pool as April 14 — when the board must pass a budget — closes in.
“We’re in a period of reducing expenditures,” he said. “We’re cutting things so it’s hard to say, ‘Well, just cut two teachers and keep the Skyview pool open instead.’ That’s what makes it so hard, especially when we have a pool two miles away at (Soldotna High School).”
Kaylee Osowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.