Voices of the Peninsula: Theaters and pools are vital and need funding

We are the theater technicians and pool managers of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. Typically, we operate behind the scenes, using our professional skills, specialized training, and advanced certificates to ensure the communities of Seward, Seldovia, Soldotna, Kenai, Homer, Ninilchik, Nikiski, and others have world-class access to the swimming programs and theaters our schools offer.

If you have ever been to a meeting in one of our auditoriums, a concert, a dance recital, a prom, a graduation, a play, an aquatic therapy session, a swim meet, swim lessons, lap or open swim or any other pool or theater program at a school, we were the ones working there so that could happen.

Extraordinary circumstances have compelled us to step forward for our students and our communities. The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is facing devastating budget cuts next year that will eliminate our communities’ theater technician and pool manager positions. Years of flat funding from the State of Alaska amid rising costs has pushed the district to do this.

Our pools and theaters are on the chopping block. Without these skilled professionals to operate those facilities, they do not operate. Alaska faces an unprecedented workforce shortage and if our positions are eliminated, they will not be easily replaced. It takes years to acquire the training, skills, and certificates to run a safe pool and pool environment, as well as to run an organized theater.

Ask yourself, how many people in our community have American Red Cross Water Safety Instructor, and Lifeguard Instructor certifications, or a Certified Pool Operator certification? These certifications are needed to make sure the pool is safe and chemicals are all balanced, in order for people in our communities to go and enjoy a swim. How many among us can operate an Automated Digital Mixing Console? Or has a Counterweighted Fly Systems Certification?

Where will our children learn to swim without a community pool that’s easy to drive or walk to?

Will students remember a prom without audio equipment or a stage to decorate and walk across at Promenade?

What is high school graduation without a walk across the stage or slideshows or audio?

Aquatic therapy helps many of our seniors keep their mobility and live healthy lives in their golden years. The arts, like theater and band, empower students with a sense of purpose and creative expression.

Perhaps most importantly, Alaska is surrounded by water, it’s everywhere, and most of us live in coastal communities. Every year, at least one student comes back after some boating accident or other incident and says, “Thank you, if I hadn’t had those swim lessons I may not be here today.”

We all do these jobs because we love the students and we love the community and the effect and impact pools and theaters have on those in the community. We want to be able to continue offering all of the programs that help to bring our communities together. Please understand, pools and theaters are not frivolous luxuries. These are vital programs for our user groups.

The outpouring of community support has been inspiring. What needs to happen now? If you value our schools, pools and theaters, please tell our representatives in the Alaska Legislature to pass a permanent increase to the base student allocation. Our district needs reliable and predictable funding to continue operating schools, pools and theaters. Simply put, our children and our communities deserve it.

— The Pool Managers and Theater Techs of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District: Bethany Miller, Desiree Traxler, Ginny Johnson, Lisa Stanish, Nita Hollingsworth, Jesse Bolt, William Hubler, Paul Wright, Robert Mabrey, and Russell Singleton