The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is holding meetings across the Peninsula to gauge public opinion on different options to consolidate or close schools in the face of expected budget cuts. At a public meeting this week, district officials discussed the possible consolidation of Soldotna Prep into Soldotna High School, putting freshmen through seniors back in the same building for the first time since 2014.
Most of the 60 or so people who came to the SoHi auditorium Thursday night were current 8th graders and their parents, wondering how to plan for next fall.
There are a lot of moving parts to shuttering Soldotna Prep, which also houses students in River City Academy along with special needs students, and integrating them back into the high school. But it could represent a savings in excess of $600,000 or, roughly six full time teaching positions.
Soldotna Prep principal Curt Schmidt said one of the goals in consolidation would be continued class offerings that might go away if staff were cut in order to keep the building open.
“The other thing that would be something really hard to lose would be our intervention program. Right now, we’re able to work with our most needy kids, the ones who are struggling the most. They do well, they pass those classes with those supports...just that extra piece of humanized (attention) watching them, supporting them, guiding them through that, that would be our best case scenario of lost (positions). And we’ve operated without that (program) before not with the kind of results we have where we get nearly 90 percent of our students to be on track to graduate.”
SoHi principal Tony Graham said under the best scenario for his building, they’ll still lose at least one teacher and be looking at increased class sizes, but potentially fewer class offerings. Now, some of that has to do with declining enrollment. It’s not all because of the budget. But consolidation might be a way to keep offering courses beyond just the basics.
“(Course offerings are) something I’m really happy to do, actually and the reason why I’m happy to do that and we give up staffing to do that is so that our freshmen come to us as a well-rounded student. I don’t want it to be where you get your four core and P.E. and geography and health and that’s all you get. I want them to be able to have offerings such as welding, construction, Spanish, foods; the things that make school fun for a lot of kids. So, when we start talking of pupil-to-teacher (ratio) increases, it really restricts me to offer the courses just for my students as well as the freshmen.”
It’s likely there will be more public meetings before any final decisions are made, but school board member Dan Castimore said given a range of a lot of bad options for the district to choose from, this one is more appealing than closing the only school in an Anchor Point or a Moose Pass.
“If we do this...it means district wide, we’ll be able to fire less people. I means we’ll be able to try and keep our class sizes low across the board. So when I look at this decision, it’s pretty simple. The reason they’re fast-tracking it is because...we’re not closing the only school in a community here. The impact to students here is they’re going to get dropped off a couple blocks away, or they’re going to take a bus a little farther. It’s not anywhere near as severe. And that’s not to say I don’t appreciate the feedback. I do. I get it. It’s difficult. But...when I look at all the other options that I have, they’re a whole lot worse.”
One parent in attendance asked, given the budget situation, what parents can do. Assistant Superintendent John O’Brien had a clear answer.
“It happens every November. It’s called elections. I hate to be crass, (but) looking back to last November, in my opinion, in terms of representatives who are going to stand up for education, borough assembly members that are going to stand up for education, a governor that’s going to stand up for education, we are reaping the results of last November’s election. So, in the long term, do your homework (on candidates) and what their stands are on supporting education or not supporting education.”
In the short term, O’Brien suggested continued calls to legislators.