Homer Alaska - Elections

Story last updated at 5:15 PM on Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Illg: Schools contribute to well-being of all



Through my observations and conversations with many local community members, I think we all need a reminder of the important roles, influences and social structure that schools provide to small communities such as ours. So many fundamental and influential life skills and experiences take place within the schools and we are fortunate to have the stage for these important moments to happen.

Our schools are literally and figuratively the biggest investments we make in our community. The economical variables to operate our schools are substantial. The total budgeted operational cost for the entire school district in 2011-2012 was $136,711,226. Homer area schools including McNeil Canyon Elementary had a total operation budget of $15,425,202 that provides services for 1,341 students. These numbers do not include the local KPBSD Connection Home school program that serves 870 students district wide. During the 2011-2012 fiscal year, the Kenai Peninsula Borough allocated $42.6 million to KPBSD in addition to millions of dollars worth of in-kind services such as maintenance and facility use.

The total borough-owned school infrastructure assets of land, building and equipment comes to a value of $307,863,189. In Homer, the total asset value is $59,157,154 most notably Homer High School is the highest valued school at $34,793,510. Total combined value for all of Kenai schools is $39,320,170; Seward schools: $38,290,826 and Soldotna schools: $40,217,727. With this type of continuing investment and existence of multimillion dollar facilities, field space and pools, I believe the school district has a means to address its most pressing concern: declining student enrollment. The cost of doing business continues to rise yet we are seeing a trend in declining enrollment.

While it is the school district's primary mission to provide a quality education, it also has the influential ability to assist with attracting and retaining the young family demographics that is the necessary target audience for the school district to sustain. Award-winning schools and good test scores certainly create a good reputation that can attract families and businesses to set up shop but I also think schools should take a hard look at their roles and capabilities in contributing the quality of life and well-being of all citizens, especially our youth.

Rural and isolated communities such as Homer rely heavily on the ability to use existing borough owned infrastructure such as the fields, pool, theatre and gymnasiums. I believe there is a general consensus from community members that our schools should be utilized for the overall benefit of the community whenever possible. Yet there are rising concerns of the costs of allowing non-school district activities and functions thus creating a strain on the schools operating budget. Consequently, if the school's infrastructure continues to be seemingly more difficult to access and use beyond the school district regular functions we may realize too late that this trend is a contributing factor in the declining enrollment numbers as quality of life opportunities and outside programs are diminished, resulting in families moving away to other communities. While I don't believe this to be the driving factor, it could play a significant role. While this may be a unique challenge to find the right balance, we need to continue to support all healthy options more than ever considering the increasing detrimental costs and effects of our health care crisis.

We continue to see the alarming increase in child obesity rates, preventable health diseases and the rise of passive entertainment through technology and yet we have the ability, desire and physical place to take preventive measures and combat these concerns locally. There are many studies that support the common theory that healthy, physically active students contribute to the success of their learning skills and educational experience. As a school district, I believe we have the responsibility to strive to develop healthy, creative and productive learners with the expertise of school staff and the welcomed contributions of all community stakeholders.

I would appreciate your vote on October 2nd, as I believe I have the passion, skills and commitment to best represent Homer on the Kenai Peninsula Borough School Board. It may be time for new representation, new ideas and most importantly: having a choice. Thank you.