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School boiler tops DOE funding list


School board members got a brief breath of hope after the Alaska Department of Education reported that Petersburg was No. 1 on its list, as well as Nos. 9 and 33.

But that all will still depend on the budget and how far down the list state appropriations would flow, as several large ticket items, including a pair of school renovations for Yukon-Koyukuk and Fairbanks that were billed at more than $10 million each.

Petersburg’s first request is much more modest than the item that precedes it — for a boiler rehabilitation. $24,565 was requested with $13,228 required as a local match, now that years of the borough’s solid finance numbers have bumped the school into the highest cost sharing bracket of 35/65 with the state.

“These are projects that are funded by legislative approval, but a share is required from the community,” Board President Jean Ellis said. “It’s a formula based on the number of students you have, divided by the value of property for your area. As, over the years Petersburg’s student population has dropped and the values assessed have increased, especially with the borough transition, the shares have changed.”

Next on the list for the school are district wide food service renovations, $1,068,656 requested with a match of $575,430. Further down on the list, and unlikely to receive funding over the next fiscal year, is a request to replace the school’s underground storage tanks, $111,634 requested and $60,111 in matching funds.

Board member Jay Lister questioned if the school had adequate reserves to pay for the projects, rekindling a brief, ongoing and unresolved conversation about whose ultimate fiscal responsibility the projects are — borough, school or other funding sources.

“Where we are now, the school district has done a very, very good job of setting some money aside because we didn’t know where we would be financially with the borough contribution,” Superintendent Lisa Stroh said. “It hasn’t been decided yet — first we need to get it funded — but then we need to decide if we use the money we’ve set aside, which certainly isn’t the ($575,430 for food service renovations), but we do have some.”

Other options are to pull partly from reserves, partly from federal funds provided by the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) Act or to request contributions from the assembly — or a combination of all three, she said. “There’s been a lot of discussion on that and there’s no real answer right now.”

The SRS funds are primarily kept back in the budget as “rainy day funds,” held against disaster and unanticipated events to keep the school running smoothly, she added.

Board members also appointed members to various committees responsible for drawing up future plans for the school. President Ellis hung back and retained her role as an overall coordinator and go-to resource for Stroh and other board members. Lister pledged his time to the negotiations, wellness and facilities committees. Sarah Holmgrain offered to join him on negotiations, also taking up budget and technology committees and service as a legislative liaison, along with Cheryl File, who will also be on negotiations, curriculum and policy committees. Megan Litster will be on budget, crisis and policy committees.

Board members briefly discussed the merits of having or dismissing the technology committee, which has been typified by periods of brief, but energetic action between long lulls. They eventually elected to keep the group active, as more and more aspects of testing and education become technology involved.

“We want to make sure everybody’s really lined up (on curriculum), K-12, and one of the main ideas is to get technologies really nailed down, really as a district,” High School Principle Richard Dormer said. “But it would be great for Petersburg to be able to expect a first grader to be able to do these benchmarks. We haven’t laid things out that far, as we’ve been focused on getting these machines up, getting everyone access and ensuring it’s safe.”

Besides ensuring students have basic knowledge of common program usage, a technology program could lead to programming classes or other options, he said, adding that the new state testing, Alaska Measures of Progress (AMP) are electronic, and have been the subject of recent training

exercises for educators and administrators readying to assist students.


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