Candidates for the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly addressed school district funding on Tuesday at an annual forum hosted by the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce and KMXT public radio.
The candidate forum featured seven of eight candidates running for three open seats on the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly.
Current assembly member Rebecca Skinner was unable to attend the forum due to a prior commitment to attend the fall meeting of the U.S. Department of the Interior Federal Subsistence Management Program’s Kodiak/Aleutians Subsistence Regional Advisory Council, of which she is a member.
Asked how they would handle school funding and whether they would support funding to the cap, the candidates present expressed an overall desire to funding local schools to the maximum extent possible.
Jeffery Murray said education is important, but refuted the idea that a good education is tied to the amount of money spent to provide that education.
“What is important is the quality of the information and the education that they’re getting. If we want to give that quality, we need to make sure that all of our resources are being used to the maximum extent for that education,” he said.
He specifically cited a need for qualified educators, and said work to bring down the cost of living would be important for ensuring teachers can stay in Kodiak.
“I think if funds and the need is there, funding to the cap is acceptable but, same with my own personal budget, I always try to reduce my expenses when I can,” Murray said.
Terry Haines also said funding will be dependent on available funds.
“I do favor funding to the cap because I think the budget overall is priorities … what you prioritize. I think that … the skills that we learn in school are essential to our economy and our wellbeing as a community,” he said. “Having said that, I realize that there are realities. There are realities in the overall assembly budget that have to be addressed.”
In deciding what to fund, Haines advocated for going through the budget “bit by bit” and prioritizing what programs should be maintained based on their importance to the community.
Once the budget is prioritized, the school district and assembly can decide what programs can be funded based on what the borough can afford, he said.
Don Roberts advocated for looking at what it would cost to fully fund school operations without teachers having to use their own money to provide supplies for their classrooms.
“I think we start with that real number and try to figure out how to make that happen, and only after that do you start cutting. I think the assembly needs to work with the school to figure out how to make that happen,” Roberts said.
Many of the candidates posited that additional revenue should be generated to cover the cost of educating children.
“Education of our youth is important, and our commitment to that is reflected in our dedication of funding. As a resident and an assembly member, I’m only satisfied with a balanced budget and, therefore, school budget cuts as a last resort should not be off limits,” said Julie Kavanaugh. “It’s a really tough stance but, if I’m going to run as a fiscal conservative, that’s kind of the bottom line for me.”
Kavanaugh went on to point out that the school district recently saw significant funding cuts and that cutting school funding would not be something she would go after at this point.
“I don’t see any fat there,” she said.
“I really think that the school is going to need to come to the table next year asking for more than they got next year, and that we really need to be aggressive in looking for revenue increases borough-wide,” she added.
Andy Schroeder said he believes that the current school administrators and board of education are competent and understand what is needed and what is just wanted.
“Obviously, what’s needed is a lot. We’re performing below the statewide average on standardized tests according to the most recent study and our state is pretty far behind the rest of the states,” he said.
He believes that the community showed its support for local schools in its vote to approve the high school bond.
“Was it implicit in that bond to build the new school that we would do so at the expense of the instruction going on inside, that there would be cuts to programs and to students in order to have a new building? I don’t think it was. I think it was a mandate to make an investment in our children’s education, and if what’s needed is a property tax increase to pay for that school, I really think the community’s already voted on that,” he said. “… I think we need to increase their budget again and that brings me back to how to raise revenues to keep things going around here.”
Brent Watkins said educating children, along with support for seniors, should be at the top of the borough’s priorities.
“To me, kid programs (and) senior programs are critical to a healthy community. Those are the top of the pile when it comes to the budget. We need to make those the strongest to get the strongest community out of it in the end run. When times are tight, we need to make cuts, but this should be the last place that we look at cuts,” he said. “…“Funding to the cap would be ideal if we can afford it, and to do that we’re going to have to develop more income streams for the borough.”
Sandra Katelnikoff-Lester also said education should be a priority in the borough budget.
“I don’t believe that there should be cuts to the school budget unless it’s absolutely necessary as a last resort,” she said.
She suggested looking into alternative revenue sources beyond taxation that could bolster school funding.
“I don’t believe we’re utilizing the funding resources out there, especially when it comes to working with the other nine tribal governments that are on the island, who have available to them certain fundings for their schools. If we would work together and combine all of our funds and ask for help from those communities to make sure every child on the island gets a quality education, I think it would behoove us to sit down with these governments and ask, ‘What can we do together to provide our kids the best education that we can?’” she said.
Municipal elections will be held on Tuesday. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Snoderly can be reached at (907) 512-2624. Follow her on Twitter, @KDMjoann