Many budget questions remain, but for now, the Skyview high school pool has at least one financial supporter: the city of Soldotna. The city council voted unanimously to put some money toward keeping the facility open, but it’s still not enough.
It was with some trepidation that the council voted to add $50,000 to its budget, which could then be donated to the district to help keep the pool open. Soldotna Mayor Dr. Nels Anderson said these aren’t typically the sorts of donations he supports.
“I struggled with this. As I’ve commented before, I voted against, when I was on the council, all the dance supports and other things. I felt like we needed to have a policy that the public bought into, or a specific figure the public bought into, that we had a sum that we could donate or divvy up at our discretion. And this is a total exception to that.”
Several members of the council voiced concerns about putting money into something that should be in the budget for the school board. Council member Linda Murphy said rather than the city stepping in, the Borough should take up the cause, but that she saw a lot of value in keeping the pool open for the community.
“I lived in Seward for 25 years, and the pool there opened when my daughter was in kindergarten and she had swimming every year from kindergarten through 12th grade in that pool. That pool was used by the community in the evenings, early mornings. I know when I first moved to Seward, there were a number of kids who didn’t know how to swim and that pool, I think, probably saved a lot of lives.”
Council member Paul Whitney also had some reservations, including increased use of the Soldotna pool if the one at Skyview closes.
“I think the pressure put on the Soldotna pool, for everyone to start using that, would be just tremendous. I look at it as a one shot deal. Give the school district another year to come up with a solution. In the meantime, the pool can stay open.”
This $50,000 in no way guarantees the pool does stay open, though. Annual operating costs run in the neighborhood of $225,000. Central Peninsula Hospital has been approached as a possible funding source. The Borough hasn’t yet finalized its budget and how much funding it will put into the school district. And of course, the state’s final call on education funding is still in the air.
School district spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff says some of those things will be known soon, though, starting with the district’s budgeting process.
“It’s going to all be happening in the next several weeks. Monday (April 14th) at our school board meeting is when we need to pass our budget. But then the legislative session ends mid-April, whenever it’s going to complete, but that’s coming up really soon. We’re just looking in the next several weeks, everything coming together.”
Depending on just how everything comes together, Anderson says this expense for the city might not stay in its budget.
“I think in practical terms, if there is some additional funding that comes from the community, the school board members are looking for an excuse to put the pool back into the budget. If there were a couple of committed funds like this, it will happen. But if it doesn’t happen, obviously this is a moot vote.”
The school district faces about a $4.5 million budget shortfall. Some or all of that could be made up with support from the Borough, which it has given in the past. And indications from Juneau are that there will be at least some increase in education funding for next year.
Update: The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District announced Friday it would reinstate $180,000 in funding for the Skyview pool in the 2014-2015 budget. The School Board will vote on that budget Monday, April 14th.