Story last updated at 2:33 p.m. Thursday, May 30, 2002

District, unions split over using state funds
by Carey James
Staff Writer

As the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District heads back to the bargaining table with the teachers and support staff unions today, the two camps seem to have differing interpretations of how to use about $2.1 million in state funds approved by the Legislature.

While the unions released a statement Tuesday saying the money should be helpful in settling contract negotiations with the teachers and support employees, district officials hold the view that the most of the money cannot go toward employee salaries.

According to Melody Douglas, the district's chief financial officer, $1.7 million of the fund increase the district received this year is channeled through state Learning Opportunities Grants. Though the criteria for how that money must be used are still being researched, Douglas said last year the district was directed to spend the funds on remediation-type programs targeted for High School Qualifying Exam issues.

Hans Bilben, president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association, said the "Learning Opportunity Grants are available for several uses, and within the regular budget, will free up money that can be used to help settle our contracts."

But according to Douglas, the district must maintain past programs and use this funding only for additional programs.

"The way we are looking at it, the legislature has awarded additional funding that must be used on top of what we are already doing," she said. "It's my guess that (the unions) have not seen the language pertinent to the Learning Opportunity Grants. There are limitations."

The remaining $415,000, according to Douglas, contains a little more latitude in spending options, but "in the grand scheme of things, it's not all that much money."

Douglas said the district pushed the Legislature to put more money into the per student funding formula rather than these grant-like sources. If that had happened, the Kenai Peninsula Borough would be able to also increase the amount they contribute to the district, which is limited to a certain present of the funding formula.

"Unfortunately, our local borough is not able to contribute additional money," she said.