Voters in the Kenai Peninsula Borough will decide in October whether the small Russian Old Believer village of Kachemak Selo, also known as K-Selo, will get a new school. The roadless village near the head of Kachemak Bay serves roughly 45 students in three deteriorating houses that were converted into classrooms over 30 years ago.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly approved putting the roughly $5.4 million bond proposition on the ballot Tuesday. The state would pay for a majority of the school, which is estimated to cost about $15.5 million total.
Antonin Murachev attends high school in K-Selo, and he reminded assembly members why the village needs a new school before they voted.
“You can just look in the ceiling and you will see the clouds and blue,” he explained. “We have buckets under a few other cracks, and we have duct tape in the corners where you can see the outside through. We blocked off other gaps with just plywood so the rain can’t get in.”
Not everyone spoke in favor of approving the bond. Nikiski High School teacher Jesse Bjorkman questioned whether the school would attract new residents to the peninsula and the village.
“I look forward to hearing that conversation from the community,” Bjorkman told assembly members. “Hopefully they can provide some reassurance to the rest of the voters in the Kenai Peninsula about what they’re community will look like and how the infrastructure of this school will pay its own way.”
Several people pushed back against Bjorkman’s comments, including assembly member Kelly Cooper. Cooper told Bjorkman and others that because the state would fund most of the project, it also decides how large the facility would be if approved by voters. Cooper added that the borough is required to provide access to education and safe facilities in remote communities such as K-Selo.
Borough residents would pay for the bond via property taxes. Property owners would pay $4.95 per $100,000 of assessed value on their property. That’s a point School Board member Debbie Cary drove home.
“Just because there’s only 40 or 50 kids in the village doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve an education, and in order for them to get a school, this is where we need to proceed,” Cary said. “An average home is about $200,000. On your property taxes, it’s going to be about $10, but those kids deserve an education and a safe building.”
The Legislature approved covering 70 percent the project’s price tag in 2016. The state reduced that number by 5 percent, but it increased the maximum amount it’s willing to spend on the school, increasing the borough’s required 30-percent match.
This is the borough’s last chance to ask tax payers to help fund the school. State funding for a new facility is set to expire in 2019. Borough residents will vote on the bond proposition during the regular election in October.