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12/29/2012
Funds, Native ed marked ‘12

By NICK BOWMAN

Daily News Staff Writer

Education of Alaska Natives earned renewed concern from community and Ketchikan School Board members in the latter part of 2012.

Sometimes-heated discussion was sparked by a letter sent by Cara Wallace, former education director of the Ketchikan Indian Community and daughter of Lee Wallace, tribal president of the Organized Village of Saxman.

Wallace alleged that the school district was out of compliance with federal law that set requirements for the School Board’s interaction with the Native Community.

Wallace wrote in her letter than if the School Board didn’t adjust its practices, KIC would consider applying for Title VII?funding, which is used for the Native preschool program run by the district.

Her letter began a dialogue among the district, Native parents and tribal governments.

It also put the spotlight on the Indian Policies and Procedures Committee and the involvement of Native groups, like KIC and Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood, within the district.

The start of 2012 was sour for the Ketchikan School Board as it struggled from January to April to fill an almost $1-million hole in its 2012 fiscal year budget.

Some Advanced Placement, music and art courses, preschool programs, counselors and several teachers were under the axe at the time.

By the end of April, when the $29-million budget was finished and sent to the Borough Assembly, the district’s universal preschool program was cut in favor of a part-day program. Also cut was a maintenance position, a custodial position, a counselor at Point Higgins Elementary School, two Ketchikan High School teachers, two classified positions at Houghtaling, a technology training program for teachers and an elementary technology program.

School supplies also were reduced throughout the district along with a one-half reduction in maintenance and custodial supplies.

But near the end of 2012, a higher-than-projected student count resulted in approximately $1 million in additional funding for the district, allowing the School Board to restore some of the funding for maintenance supplies and school supplies.

The Assembly increased the district’s spending authority as grants and other funding came into the district, and by the end of the 2012 fiscal year, the district’s spending authority was more than $35 million.

Gov. Sean Parnell’s recent budget proposal also includes an additional one-time allocation for school districts. District Business Manager Matthew Groves is projecting an allocation of $466,000 from the governor’s budget. The district received $413,000 this year from Parnell’s previous one-time allocation.

The district’s health insurance fund further strained its finances in 2012. The district insures itself, meaning that employees’ premiums go into a pool that the district then uses to cover health care costs.

The fund’s deficit peaked at more than $1 million in the summer after a series of medevacs and back-to-back, expensive claims. Former School Board Member Susan Pickrell, who finished a term this fall, took an interest in the fund after it experienced the heavy deficit.

At her last meeting as a board member, she emphasized that the School Board should work to bring the fund out of the red.

In the fall, the fund’s deficit fell to $571,000 and, moving into the winter, had moved within $300,000 of leveling out, according to Groves.

Activities budgets were also a concern throughout the year for the district. Citizens and School Board members repeatedly voiced concern about heavy fundraising in Ketchikan as a result of tight budgets.

In response, the Assembly gave the district a one-time grant of $200,000 to lighten the fundraising load on students, but it’s been said by board members and community members alike that the funding has done little to quell most of the fundraising done by students.

Differences between the School Board and Board Member John Harrington grew during the budget-crafting process until he resigned in early May, shortly after the School Board delivered its budget to the Assembly.

Harrington was a former Assembly member, and he wrote in his letter of resignation that the progress he perceived in relations between the Assembly the School Board was "illusionary."

He wrote that his methods differed vastly from the School Board and would "most certainly clash" if he retained his seat.

Prickrell was appointed to the School Board in May to replace him.

In October, voters approved a $5.5-million bond proposition for capital improvement projects for the district.

The bonds, most of which qualify for 70-percent reimbursement by the state, pay for approximately $3 million in improvements to Kayhi, a $1-million demolition of the Mike Smithers Pool and improvements to Houghtaling and Fawn Mountain elementary schools and Schoenbar Middle School.

Stephen Bradford was appointed to the School Board in 2011, but failed to retain the seat in the 2011 election. He was appointed again to replace Choc Schafer, an 11-year member of the board. Bradford, along with Colleen Scanlon and Ralph Beardsworth, ran uncontested in the fall for an open seat on the board. Scanlon and Beardsworth replaced Pickrell and Roseann Lynch.

In August, several Ketchikan schools failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress standards under the No Child Left Behind Act. Kayhi fell short for the fifth consecutive year for its math scores. Math scores also proved to be an issue at Revilla Alternative School, which didn’t make AYP for the fourth year in a row.

Houghtaling and Fawn Mountain elementary schools failed to meet AYP for language arts, but met standards for math.

Ketchikan Charter School, Tongass School of Arts and Sciences and Point Higgins Elementary School met AYP. Point Higgins had the highest proficiency scores in language arts, 93 percent, and math, 89 percent.

AYP standards were frozen statewide in 2012 at 82.88 percent for language arts and 74.57 percent for math. The freeze was approved by President Obama.