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School board reviews priorities ahead of lobbying legislature

The Alaska Statehouse in April, 2022.
Riley Board
The Alaska Statehouse in April, 2022.

A per-student funding increase and pension plan are among the talking points school board representatives plan to discuss with state legislators. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s Board of Education is preparing to advocate for its needs before the Alaska State Legislature later this month.

The board’s Information Committee met Thursday to decide which bills and talking points members will focus on when they campaign before the state legislature. Three board members and two student representatives will visit Juneau to lobby for KPBSD at the Association of Alaska School Boards Legislative Fly-In.

The district set its legislative priorities late last year, which include supporting student success through programs and standards, getting predictable funding from the state, and ensuring a safe and supportive school environment.

Soldotna Board Member Penny Vadla, the committee’s chair, said one advocacy priority will certainly be an increase to the Base Student Allocation or BSA, the amount of money the state provides per student. It hasn’t increased since 2017 except for a $30 bump in 2022.

“When you look through the BSA that we’ve been given, it doesn’t do anything. That $30 doesn’t meet up with inflation, and it doesn’t provide us the opportunity to keep doing what we’re doing,” Vadla said. “And I think if we don’t have a timely, reasonable BSA increase, we’ll really have an issue going forward in our following years, because we aren’t even keeping up with inflation.”

The committee discussed Senate Bill 140, the House Majority’s new broad-ranging education bill that includes a $300 BSA increase, expanded broadband funding for rural schools and a stipulation that would allow charter schools to seek approval from the state, rather than from their local school boards.

Student members, Vadla and Superintendent Clayton Holland all said they were disappointed in that bill’s small BSA increase and broad scope.

Holland stated his support for a $1,200 minimum BSA increase, with an ideal $1,400 increase, although he said even that number puts the district in the same place it was in 2012, when accounting for inflation. He also said he was unhappy with the charter school provision of SB 140.

“In order to get a BSA increase, there’s going to be a compromise on a very key part of American democracy with that," he said. "The school boards, at the most fundamental level, local level, represent the people. It’s that a representative democracy. And I feel that’s in some ways under attack with this bill from the governor.”

Holland said another part of SB 140, which provides teacher bonuses in order to increase recruitment, sounds good in theory, but has not gotten the support of teacher groups, and could detract from a BSA increase.

The committee also discussed a bill that would return to a pension system for Alaska’s public employees, including teachers. That bill passed the Senate Wednesday, but faces an uncertain future in the House

The information committee will meet again Monday before the Board of Education’s regular meeting at 6 p.m.

Riley Board is a Report For America participant and senior reporter at KDLL covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula.