Mike Illg looks forward to another year on the Board of Education

After getting a taste of the Kenai Peninsula School District Board of Education with a partial term, member Mike Illg of Homer will get to become a more familiar face as he takes his seat for a full term.

Illg is running unopposed for the board’s District 8 seat, the one representing Homer, for a 1-year term. An Alaska resident of 17 years, Illg is the recreation manager for the city. He has an associate degree in arts and sciences, a bachelor of science in parks and recreation management and a master of science in recreation, sports and tourism.

The former Homer area wrestling coach first ran for a seat on the board in 2012, when he said he wanted to give the voters options, and lost to Liz Downing. He then was appointed to fill her seat in October 2016 after she vacated it in September of that year.

Illg said he’s looking forward to continued work on the school district’s budget, which he said is the most pressing topic the board faces.

“For every dollar that the borough receives in tax revenue … 67 cents goes to the school district. And so I’m hopeful that I can help remind people about that connection. Not so much saying, ‘Vote for this or vote for that, or don’t vote for this,’ just remind them that the 67 cents on a dollar goes directly to the school district.”

Illg emphasized that it’s not just the teachers and administrative staff that benefit from the borough’s sales tax, but the infrastructure of the district itself.

On the Oct. 3 election ballot is a measure that would raise the sales tax cap in the borough from $500 to $1,000, making the first $1,000 of most purchases except residential rent subject to sales tax. Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre has described this proposition as a way to increase revenue during a time when it’s declining, especially at the state level.

About two thirds of the borough’s entire budget is currently allocated to the school district. In approving its FY 2018 budget this summer, the borough assembly approved $49.7 million for the school district, a $1.5 million increase from the previous year, but not as much as the district had asked for.

“We have at the school district been making millions of dollars of cuts over the last five or six years because we know revenue is declining, and we’re tapping into our savings, our reserve fund if you will,” Illg said. “So we’re going to come to a tipping point where we’re going to have to reevaluate how we’re going to deliver a world-class education system.”

Coming from a background of recreation, the overall health of the district’s students is important to Illg.

“Education and recreation, those are my two passions,” he said. “I think in those two realms, that’s where we have the most opportunity to make the most impact for our kids, our parents and our community members at large. Healthy, active, educated community members equates to a successful community.”

Illg said he’s also excited to see how the district’s rollout of its personalized learning initiative will go. The district this year partnered with consulting group Education Elements to focus more on personalized learning, which uses a combination of digital content integration, targeted instruction, data-driven decisions and student reflection and ownership. On the lower peninsula, it’s been implemented so far at West Homer Elementary.

Illg said he’s looking forward to working with the other board members again, a group he describes as dedicated to ensuring what’s best for the peninsula’s kids.

“There’s so many moving pieces in the school district,” he said.

Of the other three seats coming open on the board, incumbent Joe Arness is running against Jason Tauriainen for District 3 (Nikiski), incumbent Penny Vadla will retain her District 4 (Soldotna) seat, and Debbie Cary is running unopposed for the District 7 (Central) seat being vacated by Bill Holt, who chose not to run again.

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@homernews.com.