The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly’s annual meeting in Seward usually has a fairly light, local agenda. But this year, they’ve even switched venues from city hall to the more spacious high school auditorium as education funding measures on the agenda are sure to draw a crowd.
The borough administration has laid out what it thinks is an appropriate funding level for the borough’s single biggest yearly expense, local school funding. Mayor Charlie Pierce has proposed funding $47.3 million for the school district in a resolution that will get a hearing Tuesday night. The district has requested funding to the cap, about $52.5 million.
Calls to the mayor’s office weren’t returned in time for this story as he’s been on vacation the last couple weeks, including the last assembly meeting, when a number of borough residents, parents, teachers and even students showed up to talk about school funding. Assembly member Dale Bagley wasn’t impressed with the mayor’s absence.
“One thing I’m not happy with, I know the mayor has made a lot of comments and has probably enflamed the situation just a little bit and I am really not happy that he’s not here for the testimony that was heard today. We sat through it and we’re going to have to make decisions and I really think the mayor should have been here for it and I don’t think you should schedule vacations during budget time.”
The mayor’s proposal is also a decrease compared to last year of $2.4 million. Either by coincidence or by design, that’s the same amount that’s being requested in supplemental funding in order to begin offering contracts to non-tenured teachers. Assembly members Hal Smalley and Willy Dunne co-sponsored that ordinance that will also be voted on Tuesday night. Dunne says it’s not just about trying to avoid expensive turnover, as teachers who haven’t been offered contracts may begin looking for employment elsewhere.
“It costs money to train new teachers and we actually would benefit financially by retaining our experienced teachers, so that’s one of the things I’m hoping we can accomplish with this supplemental funding. I think also we have a moral obligation to provide the school district with the tools they need, in the form of funding, to do an excellent job educating our kids.”
The mayor’s proposal represents a funding floor and could be added to by the assembly, which might be a tough sell. But Dunne says he’s confident that the supplemental funding measure will find enough support to be passed.
“I know that the assembly has been hearing from a lot of parents and educators and school children. We’ve received a ton of postcards...requesting full funding for schools and I think that’s been very effective at opening assembly members’ eyes to the importance of this funding. I am hopeful that we’ll have at least a majority to provide some supplemental funding. Perhaps it won’t be the full amount I’m suggesting, but I think we certainly will be able to give some supplemental funding to the school district.”
The district’s basic math on full time teaching positions with benefits works out to about ten jobs per million dollars.