Board Approves Plan to Merge Skyview, Soldotna High Schools

     The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is moving forward with a plan to reconfigure schools in Soldotna. District officials have been considering the move since the fall of 2011 as a way to deal with a steady decline in the student population.

     Under the proposed conversion, Skyview and Soldotna High Schools would merge and 10th-12th grade students would be housed at SoHi. The total population should be around 600 students. The middle schools also could see some changes.

     The basic plan would have two 7th-9th grade middle schools with students attending Skyview or Soldotna Middle. There’s a proposed 9th grade “house,” which would be on the same campus as SMS and SoHi, just separate. More specifics on that plan are expected later this year.

     The move has critics who say the reconfiguration could lead to reduced individual attention or culture clashes between the schools. Those in favor say dwindling numbers are leading to fewer course offerings and programs, and this change could help keep those things in place. During Monday night’s school board meeting, Skyview Sophomore James Gallagher said the district isn’t taking the long view. He and his friend Austin Laber created a Facebook page called “Save Skyview”.

     “I fail the see the reasoning for having the high school at the current SoHi location. It’s an older building and it has no room for expansion. Skyview’s a newer building with better facilities and room for expansion. When it was opened, it was built with expansion in mind,” he said.

     Gallagher suggested that officials will have an issue if there’s an industry boom in a few years. There also has been concern about what this change could mean for the district’s budget. Superintendent Dr. Steve Atwater said he isn’t sure about specifics yet. 

     “One of the issues on the table is what is this going to cost? And we don’t know. However, we do know the efficiency of moving to the two together would likely reduce staff between the two schools by five. So if each teacher averagely costs $85,000, you’re looking at over $400,000 in savings there. There will be additional costs to come on top of that… we’re not blowing up the budget by doing this. We’re probably going to save money by doing this,” he said.

     There are a few other unknowns as well that need to be worked out like what will happen to current teachers and administrators at each of the high schools. At this point, district officials are still mulling over those plans. 

     Paul Coopersmith also mentioned his concerns about the transition. Officials plan to make the change official no later than fall 2015, but there is a possibility of moving that up to the 2014 school year. Coopersmith said he is in favor of the reconfiguration, though he says the district needs to specifically work with 10th grade students when the changes are made. 

     “We’d have to pay some special attention to make sure some unnecessary conflicts might be addressed on their behalf knowing they might have been squeezed out of football positions… all this talk about opportunity really has a two-edged sword to it. Some kids are going to lose opportunity through this,” he said.

     The plan was approved by the school board with member Marty Anderson casting the lone “no” vote. District officials will continue vetting the 7th-9th grade reconfiguration and will likely present information to the board no later than the fall.