The Kodiak Island Borough School District Board of Education approved its most recent six-year improvement plan during a recent regular meeting, even though state funding continues to be a concern.
“This is a plan that we have to submit to the state to qualify for state and federal funding, though we don’t get it anyway,” said Superintendent Larry LeDoux during the meeting. “We still have to do it with the hope that something comes along to fund these items.”
The capital improvement plan prioritizes projects over a six-year period from Fiscal Year 2023 through Fiscal Year 2028. The list is submitted to the state of Alaska, and the state board of education includes them on a statewide priority list.
The school district has identified its top nine priorities that will require attention sooner rather than later. Among them are the Peterson Elementary roof replacement, estimated at $2.45 million; the Chiniak School water treatment system upgrade at $374,533 and Main Elementary’s roof replacement at $1.22 million.
“Peterson Elementary’s roof is at the top of our list,” LeDoux said. “We could do it a little cheaper but that would just be fixing the roof, and it wouldn’t take care of the mechanical things we need to address at the same time.”
LeDoux said the Chiniak water treatment system “works well now” but will face problems and require expensive testing if the school enrolls more than 25 students.
“Main Elementary’s roof really needs some attention because it is 10 years past its replacement time,” LeDoux said. “The choice we have is: Do we patch it up, or do we bite the bullet and have it replaced?”
However, while the school district has identified its needs, most of them will rank low on the state’s priority list.
The state releases its final priority list every January prior to the start of the next fiscal year, regardless of whether the governor or legislature allocates funding. Funding for capital improvement projects are assigned as grants.
The state has two categories: major maintenance and school construction. Most of the school district’s needs fall under major maintenance. Peterson Elementary ranks 50th on the list for the current fiscal year.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy eliminated a proposed $21.64 million for major maintenance in the current fiscal year, according to the governor’s summary of vetoes.
On the state list for this current fiscal year, East Elementary’s parking lot safety is ranked 16th for construction issues.
For Fiscal Year 2024, project needs would include North Star Elementary siding at $578,461, Main Elementary siding at $565,304 and East Elementary’s parking lot safety upgrade and repaving at $489,590.
Lower on the list is East Elementary’s siding replacement at $299,279, the retiling of Kodiak Schools Aquatic Training Facility at $1.5 million and East Elementary’s metal roof replacement at $1.5 million.
LeDoux said the district will keep an eye on both the pool and East Elementary’s roof.
“Apparently when they built the pool, they did not seal the concrete when putting on the tile,” LeDoux said. “What is happening is water is penetrating the tile into the concrete and corroding the rebar.”
LeDoux said the district spent $50,000 four years ago to tear the tile off, chisel through the concrete and treat the rebar, re-patch and retile it.
“At some point we are going to have to address it and, in order to do it right, we would have to shut down the pool, remove the tile and then reseal it,” LeDoux said. “It’s a big job. If we feel the seepage in the rebar affects the integrity of the pool, it will have to shut down. I don’t want to wait that long.”
LeDoux said the school district has informed Alaska’s congressional delegation of the need for funding assistance.
“We’re hoping at some point that some of the federal money that is being talked about will move our way to the state,” LeDoux said. “I suspect once it comes this way, the state will use this list” to determine priorities.
The more pressing issue at hand remains a lack of state funding sources.
“For the first nine items on the list I think we should act on all of them, but we don’t have the money,” LeDoux said. “If we don’t take all of them, it gets worse.”
LeDoux said the state usually took care of all the issues in the past, but it has stopped providing funding and it hasn’t been honoring its obligation to cover school construction bond debt reimbursement at agreed-upon levels.
LeDoux said the school district was expecting the state to reimburse 70% of the bond debt in this year’s budget cycle. However, Dunleavy slashed it to 50% in a line item reduction.
The state’s decision affects the Kodiak Island Borough, LeDoux said, because the borough receives the funding as it owns the school buildings and is technically responsible for most major maintenance issues, while the district handles day-to-day repairs.
LeDoux said one goal would be for both the borough assembly and school board to develop a funding plan to address maintenance issues.
School board President Julie Hill asked about the borough’s interest level in doing something like that since it is ultimately responsible for major projects.
“The borough is under huge constraints right now because they are being forced to come up with bond repayment money,” LeDoux said. “It would be difficult to come up with money without raising taxes, so they are very challenged. But it’s all the more important to come up with a plan because we can’t let our public schools and borough facilities decay.”
LeDoux said another option would be to speak with the borough about the use of $1.5 million the district turned over from its fund balance for major maintenance projects, and secure additional funding to fix Peterson Elementary’s roof.
“We would need another $1 million to take care of Peterson’s roof, with that $1.5 million,” LeDoux said. “We are going to have to sit down with the borough and come up with priorities.”