The community of Vosnesenka wants the Kenai Peninsula School District to pay to lease an additional building for their overcrowded school, but the district says they have a very tight budget this year and they’re not sure if they can do it.
At the bottom of a steep road sitting near the head of Kachemak Bay, about a dozen students play tag rugby on a frozen play field beside Voznesenka School.
They holler in a mix of English and Russian. Principal Mike Wojciak has worked at the Voznesenka School for five years. He says the play field, which is actually owned by the borough, is used for sports, recess and more.
“Our PE takes place outside, our construction takes place outside. We don’t have much indoor space, so we do a lot of things outside,” said Wojciak.
Before coming to Voznesenka, Wojciak worked in bush communities in rural Alaska and he’s used to roughing it, but the school in Voz, as it’s referred to by locals, has less amenities than most Bush schools.
“We’ve only got two places where there are restroom facilities. We don’t have any sort of multi-purpose room or large gathering area. We don’t have things like a kitchen or a gym, so a lot of those things that you might expect in a school, we just don’t have those,” said Wojciak.
The more than 100 children of Voznesenka School are part of the ‘Russian Old Believer’ community; a group of Russian orthodox people who came to the United States in the 60’s seeking religious freedom and then to Alaska. Old Believers from Nikolaevsk, North of Homer, broke away and moved to Voznesenka about 30 years ago. There are three villages in the area: Voznesenka, Razdolna and Kachemak-Selo. Each has their own school. There was no school when the community started, so the locals built one and the district provided teachers. The community likes having local control of their school, for example they have their own calendar to accommodate their religious holidays.
But the students are outgrowing the buildings. Voznesenka Community Council Inc., the community non-profit, recently began building an addition onto their church. But the district is balking at paying for the new space. That’s bothering Nazary Basargin, President of the community non-profit which uses the money to maintain the school.
“Initially, when we had the school going, we couldn’t afford to build anything bigger than that. But as time went along, we went and tried to get the school district to build us a school. But they wanted to build a school for all the three head-of-the-bay communities,” said Basargin.
That was about 15 years ago, but Basargin says, at that time, the communities couldn’t agree on where the new school should be, so it never got off the ground. All ten of Basargin’s children attended the school and two of his grandchildren will soon start. Basargin says he’d prefer a new school.
“In an ideal world, I’d like to see the school district build us a school and for the three communities and have a full gym, etcetera,” said Basargin.
But Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Assistant Superintendent, Dave Jones, says that’s unlikely with the budget situation. As for the additional building the community wants the district to lease, Jones says the community did not clear the additional building with the district. The district never intended to build up the schools in the Russian Villages, he added.
“Those were things that at the time were acknowledged wouldn’t be able to be out there,” said Jones.
Sunni Hilts recently retired from the Kenai Peninsula School Board. She represented the three Russian villages on the board. She says she knows the schools in those villages are insufficient.
“They are not adequate facilities and we know that. But it was their intent to keep their culture separate. And this school district supported that. And like I say, we’re the only ones in the state that do. And it’s expensive. And now we’re in a dilemma. We already know we are going to be going to deficit spending, taking our fund balance and leaving us with almost nothing for emergencies,” said Hilts.
The District has requested funding from the state to build a new school in the neighboring village of Kachemak-Selo and that money made it into the Governor’s initial budget. The issue of whether the district will agree to lease the building in Voznesenka could be decided at the next Kenai Peninsula Borough School Board meeting on January 11th.