Voznesenka school lease still unsigned

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Tuesday, November 17, 2015 10:09pm
  • News

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and the Voznesenka Community Council disagree on the assessed value of Voznesenka School.

The community council is standing firm on a request for the school district to pay $1.25 per square foot of 6,068 feet of space. The school district settled on $1.05, per square foot, or $6,372 per month, at the Nov. 2 work session. Both want a five-year contract that includes a 2 percent annual increase. The two entities most recently met on Oct. 1, but did not reach an agreement.

“(I) believe our offer has been fair and as a public entity we have to be careful about paying more than a market analysis rate,” said Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones. “Not only at Voz, but if we start paying more than market rate then folks in Razdolna (School) and Kachemak-Selo (School) will be the next to say we need to be paying more as well.”

The school district leases buildings at the three schools in the Russian Old Believer communities established roughly 30 miles outside Homer and Fireweed Academy, Jones said.

The community council believes the assessed market value is not enough to provide the school and its students with the right tools to succeed in their education, said the community council’s attorney Lindsay Wolter.

“Anything less results in continued inequality for the children in Voznesenka,” Wolter wrote in an Oct. 9 email to the school district’s attorney Colette Thompson. “If it is the school district’s goal is to provide the best education to all children in the district, then the children of Voznesenka need a fair chance at achieving the best education possible.”

Wolter said the community council believes the assessment should not be the sole way to determine the value of the school.

The previous lease that went from 2013–2014 and expired July 1 was a one-year agreement. The school district paid the community council’s requested $1.25 plus $1,000 for water for the duration. The community council is asking the school district to carry over those amounts to the next five-year agreement. The Derry & Associates assessment included water in the $1.05 rate.

The 1-year lease acted as a placeholder until an agreement could be reached for a 5-year lease, which the two entities historically sign.

The school district has not paid the community council any rent since the July 1 expiration, but board’s approved $1.05 per square foot amount will be put into an account to be paid when the next lease is signed, Jones said. That payment will include everything after July 1, he said.

Following the five-year lease’s expiration, the members of the community council reported to the school district that they had a copy of an assessment that put the market value of the school at $1.25.

Jones said the school district was told that copy did not exist or no longer existed by the community council at the Oct. 1 meeting.

Wolter wrote the letter to Thompson that Soldotna-based Derry & Associates Inc., never responded to requests from the community council to set up a date to assess the buildings’ value, while the school district reported the community council never contacted the company.

Wolter said she does not feel comfortable speaking entirely on the community council’s behalf, but that there is reasoning behind the request to ask the school district for more than market value.

Whoever owns the buildings is required to take care of maintenance and repairs, Wolter said. The community council has also done projects that expand the facilities in recent years, improving education and instruction for the students, which the $1.05 does not properly cover, she said.

The school district is not taking into consideration the students at the school do not have access to even basic amenities such as a library, lunchroom, gymnasium or science lab, among others, Wolter said.

At the Nov. 2 work session, Tim Navarre suggested continuing school district services at the school until the end of the school year. If an agreement is not reached by the end of March, it may be necessary to consider other options, such as bussing students from the end of the borough-maintained road, roughly 1 mile from Voznesenka, to other schools closer to or within Homer.

Board member Sunni Hilts said the budget is also a significant factor in the board’s decision to stick with market value.

“While everybody here knows I support this group of people, and I support this school, I do recognize that we are in a bind,” Hilts said. “I certainly don’t think we should be paying over market value and I am really glad that we are willing to pay market value and keep trying to allow this.”

Right now the two entities are working on setting a date for a next meeting, Hilts said. Hopefully, it will happen before the end of the year, she said.

Wolter said the two representatives that speak for the community council are out of the state and it is not immediately possible to contact them to set up a date to meet with the school district.

Wolter said she understands that the school district’s budget is tight, “but the community hopes the school district could reallocate funds to help the Russian village schools obtain basic school amenities.”

She said she will be handing the school district another, “more creative” offer in the near future.

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

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