Legislature(2003 - 2004)

05/15/2003 08:45 AM Senate FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
     CS FOR HOUSE BILL NO. 165(HES)(efd fld)                                                                                    
     "An Act relating to community schools."                                                                                    
This  was the first  hearing  for this  bill in  the Senate  Finance                                                            
Co-Chair Wilken  explained this bill,  sponsored by the House  Rules                                                            
Committee at the request  of the Governor, "eliminates the community                                                            
schools  grant  program. The  $500,000  for  this program  has  been                                                            
deleted  in  both  the  House  and  Senate  operating   budgets.  In                                                            
addition,  HB 165  places  in the  uncodified  law,  a findings  and                                                            
intent section regarding community schools."                                                                                    
KEVIN  SWEENEY,  Special  Assistant,  Office  of  the Commissioner,                                                             
Department  of Education and Early  Development testified  that this                                                            
bill addresses the statutes  relating to the community schools grant                                                            
program.  This grant  program,  he  stated, began  in  1975 and  its                                                            
purpose was  to provide  financial support  to encourage and  assist                                                            
local school  districts in the establishment  of community  schools.                                                            
He  emphasized  the  intent  was  to  provide   start-up  funds.  He                                                            
expressed  that the grant  program has  been "extremely successful"                                                             
and that to  date, the State has granted  over $30 million  to local                                                            
school  districts  to  assist  in establishing   community  schools.                                                            
Today, he noted  53 school districts  operate community schools  and                                                            
added that the funds appropriated  for community schools have helped                                                            
the districts  "grow their entire  community education programs"  to                                                            
include activities  such as "before  and after child care"  remedial                                                            
programs for students and adult education.                                                                                      
Mr.  Sweeney  stressed  that  the Administration   is "by  no  means                                                            
suggesting  that we  want to  close and  end the  community  schools                                                            
program." He expressed  the program provides "a very good service to                                                            
students  and adults  alike,"  which  should continue.  However,  he                                                            
remarked  that the  Administration  is reducing  State spending  and                                                            
this  program was  identified  as "a  very reasonable  cut"  because                                                            
start-up funds have been provided for 28 years.                                                                                 
Mr. Sweeney  informed that if fully  funded, the program  would cost                                                            
the State approximately  $3.3 million annually, although the program                                                            
has not  been fully funded  since the middle  1980s and instead  has                                                            
been  appropriated  between  $400,000 and  $800,000.  Currently,  he                                                            
furthered, the  program is not funded at all and the  Administration                                                            
does  not  anticipate  funding  available   for  the  coming  years.                                                            
Therefore,  he remarked this legislation  removes the grant  program                                                            
from statute.                                                                                                                   
Mr.  Sweeney  assured  this  bill  does  not  prevent  local  school                                                            
districts  from operating  community schools.  He asserted  that the                                                            
grant  funds comprise  a small  percentage  of the  funds raised  by                                                            
local school  districts for community  schools activities.  He spoke                                                            
to the  $2 million  community services  component  of the  Anchorage                                                            
School District  budget, of  which the State  provides $150,000.  By                                                            
removing  the State's  portion,  he  predicted the  local  districts                                                            
could offset  shortfalls with  increased user  fees, "help  from the                                                            
community", or other grants.                                                                                                    
Senator Taylor  offered a motion to  report the bill from  Committee                                                            
with individual recommendations and accompanying fiscal note.                                                                   
Senator Taylor  then objected to the motion for purposes  of further                                                            
Senator  Bunde supported  the continuance  of the community  schools                                                            
programs and asked the  average tuition increase necessary to offset                                                            
the loss of State funding.                                                                                                      
Mr. Sweeney  responded that the amount  would vary by community.  He                                                            
exampled Anchorage and  the approximately 55,000 annual participants                                                            
in community schools  activities and the current revenue  of $65,000                                                            
to $70,000  generated  from user  fees  that is  deposited into  the                                                            
school district's  general  fund. He predicted  if those funds  were                                                            
invested  into the  community  schools program  and  user fees  were                                                            
increased   "a  little  over   a  dollar"   the  $150,000   formally                                                            
appropriated by the State would be offset.                                                                                      
Senator Olson  expressed that in rural communities,  schools tend to                                                            
be the largest  facility and subsequently the location  for funerals                                                            
and other community  activities. He  asked if education funds  could                                                            
be used to pay utilities expenses for these functions.                                                                          
Mr. Sweeney  was unsure  if community  schools  funds are  currently                                                            
used for these  purposes, and pointed out the average  appropriation                                                            
for smaller  schools is $4,000. He  pointed out this amount  is less                                                            
than  the amount  a  school  district must  absorb  as  a result  of                                                            
decreased enrollment.  He stated that  foundation formula  funds are                                                            
normally used for utility  expenses, building maintenance, etc., and                                                            
he  surmised  are  therefore   contributing  significantly   to  the                                                            
community schools expenses.                                                                                                     
EDDY JEANS,  School Finance Manager,  School Finance and  Facilities                                                            
Section,  Education Support  Services, Department  of Education  and                                                            
Early Development spoke  a spreadsheet titled, "Alaska Department of                                                            
Education   and  Early   Development,   FY  02   Community   schools                                                            
expenditures  and grants, Prepared  3/12/03, Updated 4/28/03"  [copy                                                            
on  file]. This  spreadsheet  lists  each  school district  and  its                                                            
community  schools  expenditures,   the  State  allocation  to  each                                                            
district,  and the  percentage  of grant  to expenditures  for  each                                                            
district.  He  also referenced  an  audit  report of  the  Anchorage                                                            
School  District  FY 02  budget [copy  on  file], which  provides  a                                                            
definition of "Community Services" as follows.                                                                                  
     COMMUNITY SERVICES  - Activities provided by a school or school                                                            
     district  for purposes of relating to the community  as a whole                                                            
     or  some  segment of  the  community  not directly  related  to                                                            
     providing  education  for  students.  Specifically,  it  is  an                                                            
     additional  responsibility  delegated  to the  school  district                                                            
     beyond  its primary function  of providing education.  Included                                                            
     are  community recreation  programs,  civic activities,  public                                                            
     libraries, public  radio programs, community welfare activities                                                            
     and care  of children in residential  day schools. Examples  of                                                            
     the  types of expenditures  to include  are salaries,  employee                                                            
     benefits, travel, and supplies.                                                                                            
Mr. Jeans pointed  out that AS 14.17.300(b)  relating to  foundation                                                            
formula funding,  provides that funds  in the public school  account                                                            
"may  be used  only in  aid of public  schools  including  community                                                            
schools activities." He  assured therefore that statute continues to                                                            
"support" community schools programs.                                                                                           
Senator Taylor  withdrew his objection  to the motion to  report the                                                            
bill from Committee.                                                                                                            
JOYCE KITKA, Volunteer,  Alaska Association for Community Education,                                                            
read a statement into the record as follows.                                                                                    
     …I am  a volunteer  with the Alaska  Association for  Community                                                            
     Education,  a volunteer  organization  that promotes  Community                                                            
     Education through  out Alaska. Our membership consists of those                                                            
     individuals  who support life long learning.  Thank you for the                                                            
     opportunity to testify  today about House Bill 165. I know that                                                            
     each  and every  one of you  have heard  from folks  concerning                                                            
     this bill.  Due to the change in schedule, I  know we have lost                                                            
     community members  who wanted to testify before you and ask you                                                            
     not to support HB 165.                                                                                                     
     We  realize  that  times  are  tough and  funding  may  not  be                                                            
     available  at  this  time.  However   passing  this  bill  will                                                            
     eliminate  the possibility  of funding  Community Education  in                                                            
     the future.                                                                                                                
     In front  of you, you have a sheet, which outlines  the history                                                            
     of  funding for  community  schools,  the numbers  of folks  we                                                            
     serve and the astounding  number of volunteers that we recruit,                                                            
     train and supervise.                                                                                                       
     Today's  testimony  is to  ask why there  really  is a need  to                                                            
     eliminate  the  statute  that  says  Community  Schools  is  in                                                            
     existence  in Alaska today. Through this process,  we have only                                                            
     heard  DEED argue  that  the intent  of the  Community  Schools                                                            
     Statute was  to only [facilitate the] start of  the program and                                                            
     [that]  all  Community  Schools  does  is  provide  open  gyms,                                                            
     although  more  recently we  have  been upgraded  to  providing                                                            
     underwater  basket weaving classes.  We have counter[ed]  those                                                            
     statements   with  attorney  opinions  that   differ  with  the                                                            
     interpretation  of the statute,  provided folks with  stacks of                                                            
     programs, flyers,  etc. that indicate that we do much more than                                                            
     the previous mentioned programs.                                                                                           
     We have been  told that there are corporate sponsors  out there                                                            
     that can  fund our programs, while other legislators  swear and                                                            
     laugh  at  these  comments  (by  that  way that  has  been  the                                                            
     response from both  parties). We have been told that we need to                                                            
     raise our  fees, yet we have not had full funding  17 years and                                                            
     are  always asked to  do more so we  have already raised  fees,                                                            
     been  creative  in  establishing  partnerships  throughout  the                                                            
     State and  have exhausted a lot of our choices.  We often serve                                                            
     the  poor,  single  parent  families   and  raising  fees  will                                                            
     eliminate those folks  from our program. We have been told that                                                            
     schools  will pick up  these programs.  We chuckle, as  we know                                                            
     our districts  are facing tremendous  cost and little  money to                                                            
     fund them.  I know my district is starting to  have problems in                                                            
     finding  the  resources  to handle  the wear  and  tear on  our                                                            
     facilities by community usage.                                                                                             
     Our participants  and staff are  upset, and I apologize  if you                                                            
     have  been the recipient  of their frustration.  Over  the past                                                            
     years, Community Educators  have approached the Commissioner of                                                            
     Education and asked  how Community Education could be a part of                                                            
     the  team,  they  have  had  no  response.  Community   Schools                                                            
     programs  across the  State have never  been asked about  their                                                            
     programs,   only   to  have   assumptions   presented  to   the                                                            
     legislature.  The  task of reporting  about  how your money  is                                                            
     being  spent  was  deemed no  needed  by  DEED. So  the  Alaska                                                            
     Association   for  Community   Educations   has  utilized   its                                                            
     volunteers to compile  and provide you with participant numbers                                                            
     and  programs.   They  feel   that  they  have  been   fiscally                                                            
     responsible and are being punished for their efforts.                                                                      
     That  last thing  I want  to touch  on is that  of respect.  As                                                            
     citizens  of Alaska, we recognize and respect  your efforts and                                                            
     why we  may not always agree  [with] your decisions  we respect                                                            
     them.  Unfortunately, many of  our participants and  staff feel                                                            
     that  the respect  has not  been shown  to them.  DEED and  the                                                            
     Governor  have  not  thoroughly  looked  at  the  program  they                                                            
     proposed  eliminating, thus insulating  the years of  hard work                                                            
     and successful  programs. We feel that it has  been a game with                                                            
     DEED staff.  Last Friday evening,  as I exited the House  Floor                                                            
     observing  area, I witnessed a DEED person high-fiving  another                                                            
     person and  exclaiming the victory as HB 165  cleared the House                                                            
     Floor. It  [became] apparent to me it isn't about  what is good                                                            
     for  kids, isn't  about what is  best for  Alaska, it's  a game                                                            
     about who  can win. However, I can tell you,  assure you, there                                                            
     are no winners as  programs will be [lost], students and adults                                                            
     will suffer and buildings will go unused.                                                                                  
     You  have  already  made  the  choice  not  to  fund  Community                                                            
     Schools.  If you think the legislation is bad  then let's spend                                                            
     the  next year  working on  making it better,  eliminating  the                                                            
     program as  outlined by HB 165 does nothing to  making Alaska a                                                            
     better  place to  live or to  utilize an  incredible amount  of                                                            
     resources available in Community Schools programs.                                                                         
Ms. Kitka spoke to the  accounting of community services revenues in                                                            
the Anchorage  School  Districts and  warned that  if State  funding                                                            
were not provided, programs  would be eliminated. She disagreed that                                                            
increasing  user fees  would  offset the  costs,  pointing out  that                                                            
rural residents would be affected disproportionately.                                                                           
Senator  Bunde  agreed  that community  schools  programs  have  the                                                            
support of many people.  He asserted that increased user fees, would                                                            
secure  more  funding  for community  schools  than  a  general  tax                                                            
administered by  the State and distributed to each  school district.                                                            
Ms. Kitka stressed the  issue is the proposal to eliminate the grant                                                            
program  from statute, regardless  of whether  funding is  provided.                                                            
She stated  that if funds  became available  in the future,  statute                                                            
should allow for appropriation to the grant program.                                                                            
Senator  Bunde noted  appropriations  to  other programs  have  been                                                            
suspended,  although  the  programs  have not  been  eliminated.  He                                                            
advocated "continuing  in that mode"  with respect to the  community                                                            
schools grant program.                                                                                                          
Co-Chair Wilken  applauded the efforts  of the witness on  behalf of                                                            
community schools  and noted the bill reflects these  efforts in the                                                            
finding and intent language  on page 1, lines 5 - 12, which reads as                                                            
          FINDINGS AND INTENT. (a) The legislature finds that                                                                   
     community schools                                                                                                          
                (1) are an expression of the philosophy that the                                                                
     school, as the prime  educational institution of the community,                                                            
     is  the most responsive  when  it involves  the people of  that                                                            
     community  in a program designed  to fulfill their educational                                                             
     needs; and                                                                                                                 
                (2) promote the use of school facilities through the                                                            
     use of  buildings and equipment  beyond the normal school  day.                                                            
          (b) It is the intent of this Act to encourage local                                                                   
     school districts to maintain community schools.                                                                            
JULIE  WILD-CURRY,  Alaska  Association  for  Community   Education,                                                            
testified  via  teleconference  from  Fairbanks,  to  encourage  the                                                            
Committee to not  eliminate the enabling statutes  for the community                                                            
schools  grant  program.  She  stressed   the  laws  supporting  the                                                            
community  schools  program  must  remain. She  qualified  that  the                                                            
community schools program  in Anchorage is "strong", but pointed out                                                            
this is  only one of 53  school districts  funded through the  grant                                                            
program.  She furthered  that over  the past  several years,  school                                                            
districts have  been the recipients  of "twenty-first century  grant                                                            
programs"  that have generated  $25 million  to the State;  however,                                                            
the  schools  are  currently  only  receiving   $1.75  million.  She                                                            
cautioned  that  twenty-first  century grants  are  contingent  upon                                                            
active  community  school programs  and  emphasized  the  subsequent                                                            
importance that the State  demonstrates support for the existence of                                                            
these programs.                                                                                                                 
ROGER SHANNON  testified via teleconference  from Kenai,  in support                                                            
of the general accomplishments of the Legislative session.                                                                      
SFC 03 # 99, Side B 09:33 AM                                                                                                    
Mr. Shannon  continued by requesting  the Committee not discontinue                                                             
the existence  of the community schools  program, based on  18 years                                                            
of  "street  level"   experience.  He  warned  that  reductions   to                                                            
community  school programs  would increase  social problems  "on the                                                            
streets"  and would  require additional  public  safety efforts  and                                                            
Senator  Bunde  voiced   objection  to  reporting   this  bill  from                                                            
Committee.  He suggested the grant  program should remain,  although                                                            
funding not appropriated.                                                                                                       
Co-Chair Wilken  ordered the bill HELD in Committee.  [The motion to                                                            
report the bill from Committee was subsequently TABLED.]                                                                        

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