A new school for the town of Kachemak Selo is at the top of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s list of funding requests to the legislature. But with the state in financial crisis due to declining oil revenue, their request may go unmet. The tiny Russian Old Believer village is at the head of Kachemak Bay.
Tanya Konev teaches preschool in Russian language at Kachemak-Selo school where she says, space is tight.
“The last couple of years I didn’t have a classroom. I would teach wherever I could, like nurse’s room, principal’s office. And then last year they made me a little closet.” said Konev.
Konev shows me the tiny closet where she teaches. It’s colder than inside the main building. We can see our breath on the chilly morning.
“So this is my preschool room. This is my second year in this little room,” said Konev.
The preschool in the closet is just one of the many far from ideal situations at the school. Tim Whip, the Principal at Kachemak-Selo, says the buildings that make up the school are literally falling apart.
“The schools are in fairly poor shape. And they do need to be replaced. You know most schools, when they’re built; they’re built for education – so you have plenty of wall space for kid’s work and smart boards, whatever it takes. And most of these were built for homes and renovated to make it a school room. And plus the buildings, they’re old and need a lot of work and at a certain point they’re really not worth fixing up,” said Whip.
Whip says there are concerns about safety. A building that the high school is in has serious foundation problems.
Across town at the high school, you can see the building sloping down from the street. Inside, Principal Whip shows me the problems.
“Well the floor had duct tape on it to keep it together. And you know the carpet has been here for a while,” said Whip.
The floors are bulging and uneven.
“Part of the high school is sinking in. And I’ll show you when we go over there, it’s definitely got a good slope,” said Whip.
David Kalugin is the Mayor of Kachemak Selo.
“We have 3 buildings for 60 students and the safety here is not too good. And when it’s snowing or windy they can feel the draft and it’s cold inside. I believe in the high school they have to wear coats in[side] when it’s really cold,” said Kalugin.
He moved to Kachemak-Selo from Oregon in the early 90s and says he’s here to stay. He works as a commercial fisherman, like most men in the village. He says he wants his two young children, 10 and 8 to get a good education so they’ll have more opportunities. He says enrollment in the school dropped a bit recently, but it will go back up again.
“We have no plans to move anywhere else right now. Some people moved out a few years ago. They sold their houses and younger couples came in. I don’t think any houses are empty here. We have around six or seven families, couples live here and they’ll have children in the school. 10 years down the road our enrollment is going to be back up again,” said Kalugin.
As it is now, Kalugin says it’s not the best learning environment for students. And he hopes the school can be unified into a new, single building.
“It would be easier for teachers, easier for the children –get these buildings replaced with a new upgraded school,” said Kalugin.
Standing outside the high school with the sloping foundation, he says if they don’t build something new soon, they’ll have to abandon the buildings.
“One of the buildings, I’m sure, will be closed due to falling apart pretty soon. And we’re running out of money to maintain them,” said Kalugin.
Kalugin says they’ve been asking the District to build them a new school for years. Now that they’re finally at the top of the list and the state’s out of money, he’s worried it might not happen.
This week, representatives of the village will be in Juneau to try to convince legislators that, despite the budget shortfall, they should build a new school in the village.
Editor's Notes: A previous version of this story said that the preschool space had no windows. The room does actually have one small window. The preschool that is referenced is a preschool co-op that a parent facilitates. The district gives the community space in the school to work with Pre-K children in the community since they don’t have other space. Tanya Konev is not an official preschool teacher for the district. Her official position is ELL aide in the K-12 school.