First-year Chapman School teacher Malia Larson speaks to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly in support of an ordinance that will appropriate around $2.4 million to the school district in hopes of retaining some non-tenured teachers for the next school year, in Soldotna, Alaska, on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

First-year Chapman School teacher Malia Larson speaks to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly in support of an ordinance that will appropriate around $2.4 million to the school district in hopes of retaining some non-tenured teachers for the next school year, in Soldotna, Alaska, on Tuesday, April 2, 2019. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)

District staff resignations and retirements highest recorded

To date, 86 certified staff and administrators have resigned or retired

Facing potential state, local and district budget reductions, many non-tenured teachers are considering employment elsewhere.

To date, 86 certified staff and administrators resigned or retired, the highest number in the years the district has been tracking the data, Pegge Erkeneff, communications liaison for the district, said in an email.

Twenty four out of those 86 have served the district for 15 years or more; 16 have served 20 or more years.

“A disturbing development we noticed this year is a rise in the number of resignations from our staff, in part due to the fiscal uncertainty state budgeting caused to the school district this year,” Erkeneff said.

For the last four years, an average of 72 teachers resigned or retired from the district annually.

At the beginning of the new semester Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed deep cuts to education, worrying some residents, especially school districts, across the state. This spring, borough assembly and school board meetings were dominated by residents, teachers, principals, school board members and even students who pleaded for education funding support to give non-tenured teachers more certainty.

Days before the school year ended, May 16, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education approved contracts for 62 non-tenured teachers. Due to budgetary reasons, nine non-tenured teachers were not able to be retained, Erkeneff said.

“Throughout the spring, our non-tenured teachers did experience uncertainty, and we were happy to issue 62 contracts and receive approval from the school board during a special meeting May 16, a few days before school was done for the year,” Erkeneff said.

Erkeneff said some employees leaving the district are leaving the state, too.

“In contrast to anticipated retirements, several of our valued staff noted that the fiscal instability of our state and subsequently in our district is a reason why they are leaving now,” she said. “They are not leaving our district for other districts in so much as they are leaving the state to go elsewhere.”

At an April school board meeting, James Harris, an English teacher at Soldotna High School and the 2017 Alaska Teacher of the Year, offered public comment regarding his recent resignation and departure from Alaska.

Harris said he felt he didn’t really have a choice.

“With the mayor’s proposed cuts and the governor’s proposed cuts, we would be hurting and we would lose our home,” Harris said. “On top of that, there has been seemingly very little support from the community.”

Teachers leaving the district can cause ripple effects with the district’s projected enrollment. Erkeneff said many of the district’s younger staff have children in local schools. Lower enrollment could mean even less funding from the state next year. In the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, a loss of 50 to 100 students might be spread over 15 to 20 schools, from the 42 schools across the district.

“If we experience a decline to projected enrollment that drove staffing decisions this spring, we potentially end up over-staffed, and experience a decrease in state funding based on the 20 day count in October that determines state funding, which is also linked to the local or Borough contribution to education funding,” Erkeneff said.

Despite uncertainty with the state budget heading into the summer, state statute requires school districts to let their staff know in May whether or not they have employment for the next year.

“All of our teachers know whether or not they have a contract for the school year beginning in August,” Erkeneff said.

She said 10 teachers were not retained because they were hired after Oct. 10, which presents another state statute issue, Erkeneff said.

“We are in the process of starting to hire back some of those teachers who were laid off,” Erkeneff said.

While teacher resignations were highest this year, support staff employee retirements and resignations are lower this year, Erkeneff said.

This story has been updated to clarify the number of certified staff and administrators who have worked for the district for over 15 years.

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