Point of View: Election officials need to recognize the reality of school underfunding

You may have heard that our high school pool is on the list of potential cuts to the school budget.

I had a lot of conflicting feelings when my social media feed started lighting up with friends advocating to save our pools. On the one hand, I love and support our pools and the swimming community here in Homer.

And/but — I also really love and support our K-12 classrooms and schools that every child in our community has the opportunity to learn and grow within. I also support other things on the cut list: athletic directors, theaters, reasonable teaching staff in the high schools and middle schools, student support staff, etc.

Currently in Alaska, and in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, we just are up against a wall without an increase to K-12 funding.

Is teaching swimming a life and safety situation for kids in a coastal community? Absolutely. Is having effective ratios of kids to teachers in classrooms with support staff in schools also a life and safety situation? I’m also going to say: Absolutely.

Advocating for an increase to the BSA (base student allocation = school funding) would help everyone — pools, theater, athletics, extracurriculars, AND our classrooms and teachers, librarians, counselors, support staff, etc.

No one wants to get rid of pools. But again — we are up against a wall without more funding from the state (and we shouldn’t take for granted full school funding “to the cap” from the borough — that needs to be advocated for as well).

I met with Rep. Sarah Vance a few weeks ago as a parent, to talk about school funding. She has a health care bill that could possibly save the district money in the budget. She didn’t know what that would look like here, but she also felt like money wasn’t really the main issue.

I can’t speak for other districts around the state, but here in OUR district, money really IS the driving issue. (Note that although it’s certainly not the only one, basic underfunding sure takes the wind out of the sails for working on the other things!).

The more we communicate with our elected officials, the better informed their decision making can be. And we will be best served addressing the root cause of the proposed pool cuts — it’s 100% lack of funding.

I’ve heard stated (including from Rep. Vance) that “There is more money spent in administration costs than for our students and classroom. Finances need to be balanced. Teachers and students first.”

That just isn’t backed up by reality here in our district.

From the FY23 KPBSD budget document — expenditures equaled 67% on instruction/student support and 15% on administration (which includes principals and secretaries in addition to the central office).

Looking at the staffing, 80% is instructional/student staff, 13% administration (district office and school administrators) and 7% operations & maintenance.

Teachers and students very much ARE first. We’ve just passed the limit of doing “more with less” and now we’re at doing “less with less,” unless something changes on the revenue side.

Without additional K-12 funding, it’s not just the pools but many other things on the table that undermine success for our kiddos and community.

We’re at a point in the KPBSD district budget that we need to understand that to say “save our pools,” you need to know what you are willing to cut…

The proposed budget cuts aren’t to add anything, they are to reduce harm to elementary grade classrooms, and not slip further in instruction in the face of underfunding.

Every one of our elected officials should be intimately familiar with what cuts and current funding levels actually look like in our schools. I am no longer interested in being placated with talk of statewide “efficiencies.”

There are real implications here at home to our current funding levels. Our state legislators especially should know, not theoretically, but actually what that funding means for our kids and community.

The KPBSD needs a $700 increase to the BSA to maintain our status quo across the board. When you talk to our legislators, let them know this is what will help our pools, schools and working families.

Rachel Lord is a working parent in Homer. She has a first and fourth grader, and she is a member of the Paul Banks PTA and the West Homer PTO. Her husband, Ben, was born and raised here, and she hopes Homer can be a place in the future where her kids could also see themselves able to live, work, and raise their families.