School closures getting closer look as board passes budget

Apr 2, 2019

Residents from the far corners of the Kenai Peninsula once again filled the Betty J. Glick Assembly Chambers last night during the school board meeting, making impassioned pleas to keep their schools open.

School closures are one of the items on the table due to budget woes at both the borough and state level.

"This conversation is not going to go away because we still have a $1.6 billion deficit and we have to address it. We want to be a part of the solution," said Superintendent Sean Dusek. "I don't want to close schools. No decisions have been made but we may have to do things that nobody wants, OK. I don't want to do it, nobody in the administration wants to recommend it, but we have to have the conversation and we have to be realistic."

Residents from Anchor Point, Nikiski and Moose Pass all made arguments to the school board to spare their school. Here's a selection:

"My name is Conrad Woodhead, and I'm from Anchor Point. I know you have a difficult job, that these are unprecedented times, and that you were looking at the numbers. But if eight years ago, if you would have told me that our building would be on the chopping block I would have asked you why. And if you would have told me that it came down to Chapman being 15 miles away from Homer, because Homer couldn't fill their schools, and because our building was old, I'm not sure I would have believed you. Thank you for insisting on a status-quo budget. Our community is depending on it."

"Bruce Joffman, mile 35-and-a-half Seward Highway, Moose Pass. The state of Alaska has a long history of dedication to public education. Significant battles have been fought to protect our schools. I was here 20 years ago doing this, as a parent. We may be new to the fight but we cannot afford to lose this one. To use the governor's words, we and you must stand tall and tell the representatives strongly and clearly that cuts to our school funding, changes to our student-teacher ratio, and closures of small schools, is not acceptable and short-sighted."

"My name is Rob Johnson and I live in Anchor Point. I know you've heard it a million times before but all these small schools are not just schools. They are the heart and soul of their community. I don't want my children to have increased class sizes. And I don't want my young son, who is a first-grader at Chapman, on the bus to go to Homer for that much time. I know that there's hard decisions to be made. But I also know there's some other way. Adults got us into this mess and I don't think we should take it out on our children."

Dusek said the administration was looking beyond closures or consolidation for a solution.

"We're expanding the things that we're looking at. We are going to put up some surveys; Soldotna Prep and Soldotna High are really the first one that's coming forward," he said. "And making sure that people understand, well, why are we looking at your school? We've been talking about it. We have that information written out. We'll have that finalized very soon. And we'll have all of the numbers as best we can."

The school board passed its budget without much fanfare, calling it "status quo" at $145 million. It also asked the Kenai Peninsula Borough for full funding, which is $52 million.