Kenai Peninsula Borough School District

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

Teachers, administrators and staff in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District are having to do a lot of learning this month to get ready to provide education from afar.

School is back in session Monday but students won’t physically be at school, with the need for social distancing to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Instead, teachers are figuring out how to deliver lessons through internet-based tools or through the mail for families without internet access at home.

As if that weren’t enough of a challenge to tackle, the district announced another big change this week. In a letter posted Monday, district Superintendent John O’Brien announced that he is stepping back from an active role, as he will be undergoing treatment for cancer.

Next week should bring answers to some pretty big questions for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

District Communications Director Pegge Erkeneff said they expect to hear from the Department of Education on whether they should continue school closures and if there will be waivers for mandated assessments.

“The one thing that we’ve got going for us is that, unfortunately, this is nationwide. So, we’re not here on the Kenai trying to figure this out all on our own. We have the entire state, with superintendents across the state, that are talking to the Department of Education in Alaska, and every single state is asking these same questions,” she said.

The district is using this week to prepare for delivering education remotely. Teachers are working on learning distance-delivery technology and planning how to modify lessons to be given via the internet or through the mail. The district is asking parents to complete a survey this week about their resources and needs at home to facilitate distance education.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is doing its annual roadshow, rolling out the proposed budget in a series of community meetings around the borough. Budget presentations were held in Kenai and Soldotna this week.

At a meeting Thursday at Soldotna High School, KPBSD Finance Director Liz Hays explained that the district is looking at a $2.26 million deficit next year.

“So, we ended FY19 with unassigned fund balance in the amount of $3.9 million, and so this year we’re not going to make cuts to accommodate the deficit we’re facing because that money will come out of fund balance to balance the budget for FY21,” Hays said.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District shared successes and concerns with the legislators during House and Senate committee meetings last week.

Board of Education member Debbie Cary, of Ninilchik, River City Academy student Kaegan Koski and district Communications Director Pegge Erkeneff participated in the Alaska Association of School Boards’ Legislative Fly-in day Feb. 10.

Cary highlighted some of the academic innovations KPBSD is pursuing, such as personalized learning, video-conferencing, a drone academy and career and technical education.

“As part of our strategic plan, we focus on four Rs — ready, relevant, responsive and rigor,” Cary said.

This is Econ 919, your weekly look at how the Kenai Peninsula works. I’m Jenny Neyman.

As Alaska’s economy worsened and state and local governments ratcheted back spending, one of the first things to go by the wayside was money for facility replacements and improvements. Deferred maintenance has been the order of the day, but that day is catching up to the Kenai Peninsula Borough and school district.

The borough assembly and school board met in a joint session Tuesday to talk about a $30 million bond proposal they plan to put to voters this fall. 

“As you well know, the days of sending in our top 10 capital priorities request through our Legislature through Juneau is probably a thing of the past,” said Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce.