Compass: It's past time to put school funding on a long-term basis

I am a fourth generation Alaskan, proud product of the Anchorage School District graduating from Dimond in 1991, former English teacher, mother of two and president of Rabbit Creek Elementary PTA.

At a leadership conference my sophomore year businessman Greg Carr told our group, "The best thing you can do for Alaska is LEAVE . . . and then COME BACK." Most of us on the college track would indeed go Outside for our studies. What a shame it would be for Alaska to invest so much in its youth and then suffer a "brain drain."

The Anchorage School District has a history of providing excellent education. My education rivaled that of many of my college classmates' elite Lower 48 private school experiences. That quality has been maintained through the years in spite of fluctuating revenue. The fact that our Sen. Lisa Murkowski sent her own children to an Anchorage public school when living here, but to private school when she moved to Washington, D.C., is testament that Anchorage offers high quality public education for our children.

ASD also has a history of annually grappling with its budget primarily because 56 percent of its revenue is from the Base Student Allocation (BSA) provided by the state.

During my junior year I was among a group of students from across the city to organize a school walk out to the lawn of the Loussac Library. We were protesting projected ASD cuts. We weren't old enough to vote, but were wise enough to know that we were being used as pawns in political games.

As an ASD new hire in 2000, I was "rewarded" after my first year at East with a pink slip . . . and the second year . . . and the third. It was always a matter of what the BSA would be. That is not an ideal way to recruit or retain employees.

I now have the luxury of being a stay-at-home mom, but am still passionate about public education and spend countless hours volunteering for Rabbit Creek. I worry for those schools who don't have the benefit of parents like myself filling in the gaps: providing tutoring, offering enrichment through clubs and activities, fundraising for field trips and school equipment. If you have never or no longer have a student in ASD, when as the last time you visited your neighborhood school? Are you aware of the great things that are still happening, but with much less funding than in the past?

It is bittersweet to see students now gathering to protest this year's looming cuts. I am proud of them for valuing their education, but how sad to see this battle has not really changed over the past 20 years. Why is that?

The BSA has never been inflation proofed. The flat funding of the BSA since 2011 has been a de facto reduction. School districts statewide have continued to make due with even less than ASD. With 85 percent of ASD's budget going to salaries and benefits, there simply isn't any fat left to cut. Fewer teachers mean increased class sizes and less ability to provide quality instruction. Adding a seventh period to our middle and high schools and pretending students will have more choices with fewer teachers is like throwing an extra row of seats on an airplane and assuring passengers their flight will be just as comfortable with less leg room because of cheaper tickets.

Sen. Berta Gardner's bill to make up for the past four years of flat funding the BSA and inflation proofing it for the future is a sincere good faith effort to invest in public education. Imagine how many hours of manpower will be reduced eliminating that particular stress for school districts statewide. That is time that ASD can devote to achieving Anchorage's Destination 20/20 goals.

Properly funding public schools should be a bipartisan effort and is a solid investment for the future.

Valerie Veerman Buckendorf is a nonpartisan super voter who has spent a majority of her life in Anchorage's public schools.