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10/24/2013
School Board against SB90

By NICK BOWMAN

Daily News Staff Writer

The Ketchikan School Board voted to come out against a senate bill that would draft all school employees into a state health insurance plan during its regular Wednesday meeting.

Board members unanimously voted to adopt a resolution against Senate Bill 90, which would require all school districts to fold into a state plan within five years of its passing. The bill currently sits in the Senate Finance Committee.

The Ketchikan Education Association, the local union branch of the National Education Association, spoke during the meeting to support the resolution.

Ketchikan High School teacher Cole Maxwell said the bill was just another way to lose local control of education.

"We can look at this from many different ways that would just affect us and be pretty selfish about what it would do to us," Maxwell said, "but I think a bigger issue is there are so many ways that we are losing local control of what we're able to do within a district, and this is just one more way to lose what we have control over."

School Board Member Stephen Bradford said the district’s health insurance plan was an important part of its relationship with teachers and a "bargained-for" item with the KEA.

"I don’t like to see the Legislature trying to impose their will statewide," Bradford said. "(SB90) eliminates all of our local choices. It also eliminates our teachers having the option to not be a part of the plan."

School Board Member Trevor Shaw said the bill was irresponsible and "hurts the local autonomy" of the district. Shaw brought the idea of formally opposing SB90 to the School Board at its Oct. 9 meeting.

"The fact that the bill does not have a financial impact statement attached to it is quite worrisome because they don't want people to know the financial impact because if they did they wouldn't support it," Shaw said, adding that he believed the bill would benefit only the largest of Alaska’s communities.

School Board President Michelle O’Brien noted that she spoke with Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, earlier on Wednesday, and said he was "pleased" that the district was coming out against the bill.

School Board Member Ralph Beardsworth was absent from the meeting.

Internet use surfaced as a subject on Wednesday for a couple of reasons. School Board members signaled they weren’t interested in pursuing Internet-filtering software that would work at students’ homes as well as in schools.

Current filtering software only affects Internet use on school Internet connections. For students in a one-to-one program — which allows students to be assigned a laptop they can take home to do schoolwork — there is no filtering software at work when they take the devices home.

School Board Member Misty Archibald said she felt it was up to parents to watch what their children are doing with the computers when they’re at home. She said she felt that if the district needs to filter Internet at home, "I, as a parent, am not doing my job."

Internet-filtering at home was "a little too intrusive," she said.

Shaw agreed with Archibald, saying that some parents might be discouraged from allowing their children to bring a laptop home if district software was monitoring and restricting what they did with the device.

He said it was a parental-rights issue.

Bradford took a different stance, saying that federal regulations governing Internet filtering software is "ambiguous."

"One day the FCC will get around to imposing it on us," he said. The FCC is the Federal Communications Commission.

"This is not the last we will hear about this topic," he said.

Cyberbullying also was discussed on Wednesday. School Board members said they were hearing of an uptick in anonymous bullying happening on social media networks like Ask.fm and Whisper.

Members said cyberbullying is uniquely troublesome because it follows children home, whereas kids once won a reprieve from old-school bullying when they left school.

School Board Member Dave Timmerman said he was "blown away" by some of the things that are said anonymously — especially to young girls.

"More people have access to these kids than ever before," he said, "and I don't know who they are."

Shaw, who is a home-schooled student and takes online courses through the Fast Track program, said he keeps up with friends in the district, adding that online bullying has "picked up."

"It’s bad right now," he said.

The rest of the new business on Wednesday’s agenda was approved unanimously and quickly, including three early graduation requests for students at Kayhi, a teaching contract for Sheryl Ross for the remainder of the school year and a reorganization of November’s meetings.

The names of students’ requesting early graduations were kept private during the meeting. Ross will work as a special education teacher at Kayhi.

As for next month’s meetings, the Nov. 27 meeting — the day before Thanksgiving — was canceled. The School Board’s Nov. 13 meeting has been moved to Nov. 20.

A revision to School Board policy concerning the Ketchikan Gateway Borough attorney was unanimously approved. The revised policy accounts for changes to the relationship between the borough attorney and the School Board, and were made by the Borough Assembly earlier this year.

The board meets next on Nov. 20.