Candidates discuss technology in schools, borough budget, consolidation and more in forums Wednesday night

Absentee voting is currently open for the 2019 Municipal Elections. Election day is Tuesday, Oct. 1. (Photo by Kavitha George/KMXT)

School Board Forum, Sept. 25
Cejie Benoit, Julie Cain Hill


Borough Assembly Forum, Sept. 25
Scott Arndt, Duane Dvorak, Mel Stephens


Borough Mayor Forum, prerecorded on Sept. 17
Sandra Katelnikoff-Lester, Bill Roberts


Candidates for school board and Borough Assembly participated in a forum on Wednesday night in Borough Assembly Chambers. 

The race for one school board seat includes two candidates, Cejie Benoit and Julie Cain Hill. Benoit introduced herself as a concerned parent in the district looking to advocate for her children’s education. Hill, who  currently serves on the board, is a long-time teacher in the district. 

Benoit and Hill responded to a number of questions about the use of technology in schools, student learning proficiency, and declining enrollment rates in Kodiak villages. Throughout the forum, Benoit was critical of the school board and some of the learning practices implemented in the district. 

“What I have to say about my children should be heard, the general consensus for parents right now is that the board doesn’t care what we have to say,” Benoit said. “And if that’s the case, they need to step down.”

Hill defended school board practices while also acknowledging there were areas she would like to improve. 

“The board is incredibly responsive to public input,”Hill countered. “If people bring concerns to us, we bring it to the administration. We don’t micromanage the school district, we pay people to run the school district. And then we expect to see you know, any answer to come to us or a change if it’s necessary. We welcome input, we seldom get it.”

There are two seats up for election on the Borough Assembly, with three candidates running. Scott Arndt, an incumbent on the assembly, Duane Dvorak, and Mel Stephens answered questions about the impending budget challenges the borough is facing, challenges faced in the villages, and consolidation of city and borough governments. 

Stephens took a hardline approach to the budget, in light of the $2.6 million hole left by the cut to school bond debt funding. 

“What can we cut? Well, we are going to be cutting lots of things,” Stephens said, responding to a question about budget priorities. “I think all parts of the budget are going to after share in the pain. And the people are going to have to share in the pain with a tax increase, which hopefully we can keep small as possible.”

Arndt agreed there would be a lot of difficult budgeting decisions to be made in the near future. “Basically, everything’s on the table,” he said. “Similar to what Mel says there’s going to be reductions in service, and there’s going to be a tax increase. And the Borough Assembly is going to need to hear from the public. It’s not going to be painless.”

Dvorak, a retired civil servant, said he would bring a wealth of experience working on Borough budgeting, as well as a fresh perspective to the assembly. 

“I do think having worked in government, I understand the language and a lot of the bits and pieces that go into the organization and the communities that we serve,” he said. “I do feel like I could learn a lot and I would look forward to serving people and hearing more about their concerns. We have some very challenging issues to to address.” 

Candidates for Borough Mayor, Sandra Katelnikoff-Lester and Bill Roberts, participated in a pre-recorded forum at KMXT last week. To an extent, their conversation mirrored that of the Borough Assembly candidates, covering budget priorities, village challenges, and maintaining cooperative working relationships among assemblymembers and staff. 

Roberts, a retired borough assessor, said he’s running to give back to the community. He emphasized that if elected, he wants to maintain a balanced budget.

“What I am trying to do is be able to balance paying those bonds paying our necessarily necessary bills, and not gutting the government or gutting our school district,” he said. “I think we need to have a school district that moves forward. I think we have to have a government that moves forward. And it’s going to be very hard in the in view of what the state has done to us with funding on the on demand issues.”

Katelnikoff-Lester, a local business owner, supported increased self-sufficiency for Kodiak. She also strongly emphasized staying the course on the borough budget until the possibility of consolidation is determined.

“You have to go back to once again, consolidation. Should they should the borough consolidate with the city, all of these things are going to change. So maintain the status quo and keep working, keep the infrastructure up and running,” she said. “But until the consolidation committee has made a recommendation, we just need to work with what we’ve got.”

Absentee voting is currently open for both borough and city elections. Election Day is next Tuesday, Oct.1.


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