Public officials assess what to do after K-Selo bond fails

Oct 4, 2018

One of Kachemak Selo's three school buildings.
Credit Renee Gross, KBBI News

A bond asking voters to pay roughly $5.4 million for a new school in Kachemak Selo near the head of Kachemak Bay failed on Tuesday by a wide margin. It’s unlikely that absentee ballots will shift the unofficial results.

But the small community is still in need of a safe school and the Kenai Peninsula Borough is still obligated to provide students with one. With no Plan B in place, residents, school board members and elected officials will have to decide what comes next.

Elisaveta Murachev, a Kachemak Selo parent, wasn’t surprised that the bond didn’t pass on Tuesday. She’s aware of opposition to the bond though she hoped the results would be different. The school’s condition has been a constant source of concern for Murachev.

“Just every day something,” she said. “There's a leak, they can see the sky, so many more…”

Now that that the bond has failed, she said she’s uncertain what the next steps will be.

“We can't keep complaining every day for something that's not up to us to be fixed or built,” she said.  

Some elected officials say passing the bond was the borough’s best shot at getting the new school. The state granted the Kenai Peninsula Borough roughly $10 million for the project. Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly Member Willy Dunne said that money is set to expire in 2019 if the borough doesn’t come up with a match.

“Well, it doesn’t look we’d be able to put together the $5 plus million that’s necessary at this time,” he said. “I imagine there'll be discussions with the State Department of Education and Early Development to see if there's any options to extend the period of being able to use that $10 million, but I'm not very hopeful that will happen.”

If the borough does receive an extension, it could ask voters to fund the last bit of the project again in 2019. However, Dunne doesn’t see asking voters for the same amount of money as a viable option.

“I think the voters have spoken very clearly at this election that it was not an acceptable amount to them,” he said.

He said the borough will certainly look at other solutions. But because of state standards, finding a less expensive school will be difficult. At least for now, the borough is obligated to meet certain requirements for school construction.

“They have to be built to a certain size, a certain standard and that dollar amount is pretty inflexible,” he said. “So I don't see a lot of hope that we can reduce that cost right now, although we will be talking with state officials and perhaps trying to amend the rules or state law to allow for some more flexible ability to build schools cheaper in remote areas in the future.”

Kenai Peninsula School District Board Member Zen Kelly said the board spent years trying to find less expensive alternatives.

“We've been seven years into this, we have looked at all kinds of options, even a Gondola to basically get kids up and not have to use the road system or building an actual road down the switchbacks and all of those were not viable,” he said. “They all cost more than building this school.”

He said while the board and the assembly look toward funding a new school, there aren’t any other options to move the school into another building in the meantime. The students and staff will need to continue to make due with the buildings they’re in now.

“We lease those buildings from community members and we will continue to put pressure on the lessors of those buildings to make sure that safety issues are addressed and that the buildings are going to be safe for the kids that attend school there,” he said.

Kids like nine-year-old Matfey. He’s Elisaveta Murachev's son, and said the news that the bond failed was a letdown.

“Because this school is going to crumble anytime and we don’t know, it can be anytime,” he said.

Matfey spoke at multiple meetings during the public education process on the bond and talked about the community’s need for a new school. He was only one of a few from the small village who spoke out publically in recent months.

“We really want a new school and as long as we don't get a new school, we're OK with this school because where else would we learn?” he asked.

The borough will certify election results on Oct. 9.