New Kachemak Selo school moving ahead

A new school for Kachemak Selo is a step closer after passage of Resolution 2012-087 by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly at its regular meeting Nov. 20. 

The resolution authorizes the borough’s participation in the Community Development Block Grant Program offered by the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development for a public school facility project.

Following passage of the resolution, the borough and Kenai Peninsula Borough School District have submitted an application for a $154,000 grant, with the borough and school district making in-kind contributions of staff and a 25 percent cash match. This will fund completion of an Education Specification Plan required by the state if the borough and school district request state construction dollars for the school.

The total amount to complete the “Ed Spec,” as it is commonly known, is $208,522, according to Brenda Ahlberg, manager of the borough’s community and fiscal projects. Announcement of the grant award is anticipated by next March.

“If we receive the award next spring, then I calculated 24 months from the time we receive the announcement,” said Ahlberg of time needed to complete the Ed Spec.

The plan “evaluates and documents cultural needs, curriculum, land acquisition and site investigation, design and construction challenges, budget and financing needs,” said Pegge Erkeneff, school district communications specialist.

Creation of the Ed Spec relies heavily on community involvement.

“There will be 10-12 meetings to complete this plan,” said Ahlberg, adding that scheduling those meetings takes into consideration fishing seasons and holy days recognized by the Russian Old Believer community.

“We want to be mindful so everyone has an opportunity to come to the meetings,” said Ahlberg. “The plan can only be as successful as the participation.”

Kachemak Selo’s 64 K-12 students attend classes taught by a faculty that includes a principal doubling as a middle and high school math teacher, a half-time Russian language teacher, four certified classroom teachers and one certified Title 1 migrant teacher. The classes are held in three privately owned buildings leased by the school district for a total expense to the district of $4,140 a month, $49,680 a year. 

“They are inadequate and very expensive to the school district,” said Sunni Hilts of Seldovia, who represents Kachemak Selo and other southern peninsula communities on the Kenai Peninsula Borough school board. “We need somewhere central where we can bring everyone together and give them the quality education they really need. … This is a community that really values education.”

For the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 school years, Kachemak Selo had a 50 percent graduation rate. That has increased to 100 percent in three of the last four years.

“That pretty much tells you how supportive the community is,” said Paul Story, a school counselor that visits Kachemak Selo once a week.

Andy Rothenberger, principal at Kachemak Selo, said the buildings being used for classes “are close to the end of their useful life.” All three buildings have baseboard heat, making electrical bills “astronomical.”

Options considered by the district included a new school to be used by students from Kachemak Selo and its two neighboring communities, Razdolna and Voznesenka. A study exploring construction of a road to transport students out of Kachemak Selo, rather than the switchback trail currently used as a road by villagers, proved unfeasible, however. 

Once the Ed Spec is complete, the next step would be adding a new school for Kachemak Selo to the school district’s six-year plan for state capital improvement project funding.

“I’m excited about working with the community and having a Russian Old Believer school with everything Alaska education has to offer. We can keep the traditions and the culture and offer a high quality education,” said Hilts. “I hope this moves very quickly, and it should. This is something well deserved.”

The borough has been the recipient of two CBDG grants in the past: a $200,000 grant in 1999 for the Seldovia Community Center and a $364,522 grant in 2005 for the Nikolaevsk Fire Substation.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.

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