Story last updated at 12:40 p.m. Thursday, September 19, 2002

School board hopefuls stake out positions
Compiled by Mark Kelsey
Staff Writer

The Oct. 1 municipal election ballot will feature four candidates vying for three seats on the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education. All candidates are elected at-large, by voters from across the borough.

Only Seat A is contested.

The Homer News asked the candidates four questions. Their answers, limited to 100 words or less, are listed below.

Candidates are listed alphabetically, by seat.

Seat A, 3-year term

Gene Dyson, challenger

Occupation: Retired school district employee

Residence: Soldotna

The school district is losing home-schoolers to programs other than its own Connections program. What, if anything, should be done to change this?

I think we waited too long to address the home-school problem, so it will be hard to reverse that trend. And, definitely, I would like to change that trend.

To achieve this goal, we must first find out the root of the problem. Is it discipline? Are parents unhappy with the schools, administrators, main office, or has the parent just given up on the system?

A good start is to address these problems by interfacing with parents of the Connections program. This would be a barometer on what went wrong.

Do schools adequately prepare students for life after graduation? If so, why? If not, what should be done differently?

I am not sure which way to go on this question, so I will address vocational education. I feel that the voc ed curriculum should be expanded, as it is important that our students are adequately prepared to go out into the ever-changing work place. We are talking about 70 to 80 percent of our students, with only 2 percent of our budget.

What can both sides be doing better to settle the current contract dispute? How will you facilitate this?

As a candidate last year, I stated that one of the biggest problems facing this school district was the negotiations coming up. I also stated that for the porcess to work, everything must be above board, and posturing was not an option.

We all know what transpired. The first two sessions were a disaster. After that, everything went downhill.

My feelings are still the same, except add the word trust. Board members: I would suggest you be more careful hiring your next outside chief negotiator.

I'm looking forward to my opponent's reply on this question.

Closing schools has been suggested as a possible money saver for the district. Is it time to consider this? Why or why not?

Closing schools has been a hot topic for a few years. But suggesting and doing are two different things. Is it time to consider closing schools now? My answer would be yes and no.

Yes: Now it is the time to consider closing schools. The rationale is when we have lean budget years, every avenue of cost reduction should be looked into.

No: After saying the above, at this time, I would not close down any school until we improve the productivity of our school district budget (through streamlining). A Band-Aid budget next year should not be an option.

Debra Mullins, incumbent

Occupation: homemaker

Town of residence: Nikiski

The school district is losing home-schoolers to programs other than its own Connections program. What, if anything, should be done to change this?

Parents have the right to choose public, private, correspondence, charter, or home school. As long as our youth are receiving an education, I do not see the need to limit the options.

Do schools adequately prepare students for life after graduation? If so, why? If not, what should be done differently?

Yes. The students receive a solid foundation in basic subjects -- reading, writing and mathematics. On top of that, they are given a wide exposure to a variety of other subjects through a well-developed curriculum. They also receive excellent college-prep classes that prepare them for higher education, if they choose to pursue a degree. The members of the business community stress again and again that the students need the basics to prosper after graduation. I feel the school district does an excellent job of preparing our youth for the future.

What can both sides be doing better to settle the current contract dispute? How will you facilitate this?

It is inappropriate to comment of this subject while negotiations are in progress.

Closing schools has been suggested as a possible money saver for the district. Is it time to consider this? Why or why not?

While closing schools could save money in the long run, the tradeoffs are higher pupil-teacher ratio, loss of community facilities, higher busing costs and more time spent on buses. For now, the benefit of keeping our facilities open outweighs the cost.

Seat B, 3-year term

(uncontested)

Nels Anderson

Occupation: physician

Residence: Soldotna

The school district is losing home-schoolers to programs other than its own Connections program. What, if anything, should be done to change this?

The way school is delivered has forever changed. There are dozens of reasons for choosing alternative schooling. I applaud this as long as the students are accountable and receiving a good education. In my opinion, we need to encourage home-school students to use the public schools and facilities as much as reasonably possible.

Do schools adequately prepare students for life after graduation? If so, why? If not, what should be done differently?

The opportunity exists in all schools for students to receive the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed in life. No one has yet figured out how to get all students to take advantage of this opportunity. There is always need for improvement, and I'm not happy with all of our vocational or academic programs. Individual school improvement plans and importing best teaching practices are but two of many ideas being implemented in the ongoing quest for excellence.

What can both sides be doing better to settle the current contract dispute? How will you facilitate this?

Unfortunately, it is unwise and inappropriate for any sitting board member to comment on negotiations.

Closing schools has been suggested as a possible money saver for the district. Is it time to consider this? Why or why not?

Consolidation of schools is always an option but needs to be done in the context of improving educational options for students as much as cost savings. So far, no schools have been identified for possible closure. Our small schools have some social advantages, but we suffer from lack of economy of scale. The last time I checked, the four central peninsula high schools had fewer combined students than Service High (in Anchorage), but cost $3 million more per year to operate.

Seat C, 3-year term

(uncontested)

Margaret Gilman

Occupation: Currently a stay-at-home Mom; formerly a teacher in KPBSD for 12 years.

Residence: Kenai

The school district is losing home-schoolers to programs other than its own Connections program. What, if anything, should be done to change this?

The Connections program offers home school students an excellent academic program which allows for educational choices. Connections students are required to meet the same testing requirements and academic standards as all students in our district. At the present time, there are roughly 600 home-schooled children who live in our borough but are enrolled with another Alaskan school district. This equates to a loss of almost $4.2 million dollars which should be used to support the education of students in our district. The state should require that students use the home school program in their district if one is available.

Do schools adequately prepare students for life after graduation? If so, why? If not, what should be done differently?

There is always room for improvement, but the answer is yes our schools do prepare students for life after graduation. About one-third of our students advance to a college education and the others move on to vocational education or directly into the work force. We have advanced courses in place in our high schools through direct instruction of distance delivery. The district has an agreement which allows for high school students to take classes and receive both high school and college credit. Additionally, the new Workforce Development Center allows students the opportunity to take vocational courses which are then used directly in the work place.

What can both sides be doing better to settle the current contract dispute? How will you facilitate this?

The most important thing that both sides in the negotiations process need to do is develop a level of trust with each other and keep an open line of communication at all times.

Closing schools has been suggested as a possible money saver for the district. Is it time to consider this? Why or why not?

We need to examine each school, regardless of size, and make sure that it is delivering the highest level academic program available. The number and variety of courses offered at a school is determined in part by the number of students. If enrollment continues to decline it will be necessary to evaluate this issue as we strive to provide the best educational opportunities for our students.

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