School board candidates weigh in on issues

  • Tuesday, September 30, 2014 9:38pm
  • Opinion

1. If elected, what issues do you feel require the board’s immediate attention?

Joe Arness: Clearly, the most immediate issues for the Board of Education are the replacement of the Superintendent and the upcoming labor negotiations. The first issue is the definition of an important board issue in that its largest responsibility is to “hire the supt.”. The second issue is pressing simply because labor costs comprise such a large percentage of the annual budget. Getting organized and ready for those negotiations is huge. At the same time, the initial steps are being taken to develop next years budget and that will also be a troubling issue over the next few months.

Bill Holt: The School Board works very closely with the Superintendent and we have been very fortunate for the past five years to have a good working relationship with Dr. Atwater. It is my hope that we can carefully select a new superintendent who can enhance the programs already initiated, bring new energy to the district and provide the trust and commitment to continue improving our schools. Improving student education is always the goal of the board and we must keep that in focus during this time of transition. I am committed to helping the school board, the district leadership team and all the district stakeholders find a good replacement for Dr. Atwater.

Penny Vadla: 1. Developing a sustainable budget

2. Hiring a new superintendent

3. Enhancing community involvement

4. As always, offering a variety of educational options and opportunities that promote student success

Damon Yerly: The major issues in front of us now, are the hiring of a new Superintendent, and the upcoming budget.

Whomever is given the job of Superintendent, will help shape our school district for many years to come. I hope to be elected so that I can have a part in hiring this person. I think Dr. Atwater has done a good job, but I hope the new hire will do even better. My sons have more than 10 years left in this system and whatever choices are made by this person, can decide if they have good years, or bad years.

The budget is always a big task, but this year they have increased the amount per student, meaning that there is more money available overall. I don’t think this means we need to spend more though. Last year we had a shortfall, luckily that was taken care of by local and state government, but we can’t always count on that to happen. We need to rein in our spending a little and try to inflate our savings for the days when we can’t be saved.

2. The methods by which student and district progress are measured continue to evolve. How do you measure the district’s progress?

Arness: Measurement of progress or condition for the District is always a bit of a difficult problem. However, we now have access to pretty extensive information regarding other districts student achievement levels and we can compare our results directly with theirs. I find those comparisons a pretty instructive source of information (this district does very well in those comparisons). Graduation rate has become a more highlighted bit of information which can help determine the big picture of district achievement…again, our District has made great strides. Mostly, however, I listen to people in our community and assess whether they feel their needs are being met for my interpretation of our Districts progress.

Holt: It is expected that the adoption of the new “Core Standards” and the new assessments partnered with these standards will show a drop in test scores. There is a predictable amount of panic relating to this and that is understandable, especially since student performance will now be a factor in teacher evaluations. However, the new assessments will be an initial baseline for measuring student growth and will hopefully create a better understanding of true student progress. I think there are many ways to determine student and district progress and testing is just a part of the bigger picture. School climate, graduation and drop-out rates, attendance, student participation in activities, the availability of a rich and diverse curriculum including music and art, career and technical training, a supportive administration, adequate professional development for teachers and the availability for school choice are some of the many indicators of progress.

Vadla: KPBSD is one of the prime educational leaders in the state of Alaska. We continue to improve our schools and have increased the number of five star schools in our district. Test scores continue to improve, staff development and collaborative practices continue to propel our leadership capabilities, and innovative practices are reviewed by the school board and celebrated throughout the school district.

The KPBSD was and continues to be instrumental in the development of new teacher and principal evaluations that focus on performance and innovation. Not only are we making progress, we are also setting some of the standards. I am proud of the school district; yet, I also know that this progress is an ongoing effort that requires the participation of all the stakeholders in the borough.

Yerly: The only true way to measure the progress of our district, is to know what percentage of our students are coming out ready to either start a career, or head to college. Not all students want to attend college, and we need to make sure they are represented in our schools by giving them adequate options. Too many of the current ways to measure the schools, are geared around testing for colleges. How well a student tests, isn’t always indicative of how well that student has learned and how well that student will do after high school.

3. Does the school district provide adequate options for school choice? Are there other options to be explored?

Arness: Our District has been a leader in the State in developing options for student learning. While I am sure that there are alternatives we haven’t seen yet, I feel that we do a fairly nice job of providing and delivering a measure of choice for parents. In a perfect world, all those options would be directly available for all students…but, that’s not a realistic goal given the “far-flung” nature of our geography coupled with the small number of students in many of the population areas. We are, however, committed to developing and improving those options.

Holt: The Kenai Peninsula School District supports many options for school choice and is very receptive to other possibilities. We currently have four public charter schools (Fireweed Academy, Kaleidoscope, Soldotna Montessori and Aurora Borealis), an alternative high school (Kenai Alternative); a performance-based school (River City Academy) and a district supported home school option (Connections). We have approved the charter for a new charter school (Greatland Adventure School) and are supporting their efforts to find a facility. The University of Alaska offers many dual credit courses and the “Jump Start” program has grown greatly over the past few years. Our Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses and construction academies have also been very successful. Several neighborhood schools are offering optional programs within the schools and others are incorporating technology to create shared classrooms “without walls” with other schools. We have had great success with our school choice options and are excited to explore other possibilities.

Vadla: Yes, KPBSD provides a diverse palette of educational options and opportunities for the students in borough schools. Students can choose to attend small k-12 schools, a selection of charter schools with varying focuses, alternative schools, local neighborhood schools with a variety of grade configurations, performance-based schools, and optional schools.

Because the state is charged with overseeing Charter schools in the state, all students must adhere to definable standards and similar assessment methods.

Choice is definitely an option in the state of Alaska!

Yerly: I think we need a better set of options when it comes to school choice. Both in what schools to attend and what classes to take in those schools. We did make a huge step in Soldotna by combining the two high schools, thus greatly adding to the classes available. I would like to see this charter school finally open that has been in the works for a while also.

4. What would you change about the school district’s budget or budget process?

Arness: What I would really like to see in the District budget process is more involvement. That involvement could be from members of the public or organizations around the peninsula. I believe more involvement would contribute to a greater understanding on the part of the community as to how the budget is structured, how it is developed, and how it gets to be such a large amount of money. On the other hand, it would also provide board members with another “set of eyes” on the information…and potentially a source of suggestions which could reduce those expenditures.

Holt: The budget process would be greatly improved with the adoption a “Forward Funding” model. As it is now the district has to provide a budget based on unknown levels of state and local funding. The timing makes it very difficult to plan ahead for the next fiscal year and issue staff contracts, purchase materials and prioritize maintenance needs. It is currently a “shot in the dark” to develop a budget based on the prior years levels, factor in inflation, changes in enrollment, new testing mandates, etc. and have it land on the same page as the final approved funding. It is not uncommon for the board and administration to develop two or more budget contingencies in the hopes that one will be “right on the money”. This process takes lots of energy that could be channeled elsewhere. I am grateful that the legislature approved an increase in the BSA (base student allocation) for FY 2015 but am disappointed that those increases along with “one time funding” are not adequate to fully fund the services KPBSD has been providing students in future years.

Vadla: A focus of the KPBSD district is to develop a balanced budget and to continue our fiscally responsible practices. As we face potential upcoming fiscal gaps, we will need to continue to closely review our current and future expenditures.

The KPBSD continues to pursue an open dialogue with the Community as it hosts a districtwide KPBSD budget development meeting on October 9, 2014 at 6:00 p.m. Community members can attend the meeting by attending a school site and linking into the meeting via MS Lync. For more information about school locations for this meeting, please refer to the site:

Our goal is to maintain a sustainable, fiscally responsible budget.

Yerly: The budget needs to be smaller. Wed can’t keep buying things for the sake of spending money, and we can’t keep our spending on a schedule. Now we replace computers needed or not, on a set schedule. We are removing perfectly good computers, and buying new ones, when the old ones are working just fine. We spend a lot of money on things that are shiny and cool, when what we need to focus our spending on is our finest assets, our teachers and staff. I have never heard a student say they thrived in school because of that one computer that made them enjoy being there.

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