My Turn: A struggle to save the life of Pelican's school

Posted: Wednesday, May 07, 2003

I certainly understand the Legislature's efforts to have a smarter, leaner state government.

I request the language "opportunities for consolidation of schools" in HB 75 be open for reconsideration in a fair and equitable discussion. Some members of the Legislature are attempting to reduce funding education to single-site schools piecemeal through the Local Boundary Commission process. If the LBC consolidates bit by bit and not overall, there is less likely to be a public outcry.

This action is an unabashed political ploy totally geared at getting votes rather than improving the education of our children.

My concerns are focused on maintaining the "education" dollars our school receives. The Pelican School District is well managed and fiscally sound. It provides an income for several local residents. Our expenditures reflect the high cost of utilities, a well-maintained facility and providing a quality education for all students by quality staff. Borough formation will jeopardize the level of education funding commitment we have as a first-class, single-site school district, causing a reduction in staff, thus a reduction in students and families in our community.

If forced into a regional attendance area or a borough school district, Pelican will not have the advantage of a majority vote as most school board members making decisions are from larger communities. The emphasis will be on funding the larger communities. Small school sites will be wholly controlled by people who live elsewhere and have no vested interest in outcome-based management. If a school district has financial troubles because of mismanagement, smaller sites like Pelican will lose essential services to make ends meet in the larger communities because the larger communities have the majority votes.

The Legislature needs to look at taxation revenues that single-site school district communities have generated through property tax, sales tax, bed tax, raw fish tax, etc.

The city of Pelican generated approximately $144,000 in tax revenues in FY 2002. The city's obligation to the schools is about $50,000.

The state of Alaska gets payment in lieu of taxes from the federal government for federal lands in Alaska in the unorganized borough and other federal money for educational needs. The state is lax in recognizing this funding. There are areas in the unorganized borough that should have a property tax. The Alaska Constitution allows for the collection of taxes from these areas. Why try to subterfuge communities when a mechanism is in place?

Pelican has been an incorporated city since 1943 and a first class city since March 7, 1974. Our municipal government has not been dictated to by outside forces. Residents of Pelican value its autonomy and endeavor to be an effective voice for free-thinking and self-reliant Alaskans. Our taxes support wages for local residents that work to provide needed city services. We are a vital and functioning community and an asset to Alaska.

Under a borough government, the taxes which the city of Pelican now collects for essential city services will go to the borough government. The borough assembly made up of members mostly from larger communities will determine the ratio or percentage of tax revenues that each community gets and potentially stifle our economy, which is rebuilding through self-determination.

The consolidation of school districts study is a subject needing closer scrutiny, because these are mine and my friends' and neighbors' children who will be affected. The state of Alaska needs to know that spending money on education now builds a healthy community that is able to grow its economy. This is a struggle for our school's life and I am optimistic our local government will not be dictated by outside forces.

Patricia Phillips is co-owner, with her husband, of a commercial fishing business. She has lived in Pelican for 30 years, is serving her second term on the Pelican City Council, and previously served on the Pelican School Board.

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