District unions call for ‘walk-in’ school funding protest

The unions have issued invitations to city councils, the borough assembly, the Board of Education and others

On Wednesday, April 24, just a week after Soldotna High School students staged a walkout in protest of stagnant education funding and the governor’s veto of Senate Bill 140, the two unions who represent Kenai Peninsula Borough School District employees will helm another protest — encouraging supporters of public education to “walk-in” at local schools across the district.

LaDawn Druce, the president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association, said Thursday that her union and also the Kenai Peninsula Educational Support Association are organizing the protest with collaboration from the school district. KPBSD Superintendent Clayton Holland has notified school principals.

The unions have issued invitations to city councils, the borough assembly, the Board of Education and others to offer a “positive show of support for public education.”

At each school, the walk-in will be scheduled 15 minutes before the reporting time to avoid interfering with or disrupting school activity. For example, at Soldotna High School, the first bell is scheduled for 7:45 a.m. and teachers report at 7:30 a.m. That school’s walk-in will be at 7:15 a.m. Nearby Soldotna Elementary, which starts at 8:40 a.m., will have a walk-in at 8 a.m. Druce said they’re hoping people will show up wearing either “Red for Ed” or the logos of their school, rallying outside for roughly 15 minutes before students and staff walk into the building.

Druce said that the walk-in idea was borne of a recognition that the district’s 42 schools are separated geographically in ways that make organizing together in one place unfeasible. They hope to make it clear to legislators and the state administration that people in the Kenai Peninsula Borough are informed engaged and care about public schools.

Protests and demonstrations have been held around the state and the district this month, including at SoHi and Homer High School. Druce said she’s frustrated by accusations that teachers or the unions are using the students or directing their actions — she said students are active and knowledgeable about these issues because they’re directly impacted.

“They are much brighter and well-informed than some people want to give them credit for,” she said.

Next week’s walk-in will come just over a week after the passage of a budget for the next fiscal year that the KPBSD Board of Education said represents “the worst-case scenario.” That budget includes a broad swath of cuts to extracurriculars and support staff and increases the number of students in most classrooms, in response to a $13.7 million deficit. The board has repeatedly said those cuts can be reversed if additional funding comes from the state.

Druce said the proposed cuts affect “every classroom, every school.” That’s why the unions are calling for a statement to be made across each of the 42 facilities that make up the district.

“Students are missing out on opportunities,” Druce said. “This is important to us. We are paying attention. We need to do better for our schools.”

For more information, find “Kenai Peninsula Education Association” or “KPESA” on Facebook.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.