Sitnews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska



No Room At The Inn
by Mike Harpold


January 13, 2003
Monday - 12:30 am

The hundred or so people who gathered at the Civic Center last Wednesday night to hear about and discuss plans for the Schoenbar Middle School renovation slated to begin next
Mike Harpold

summer were a dutiful group. It was gratifiying to see so many people wanting to be part of the process. They included parents, teachers, school board members and students. But the most concerned were the parents who had students about to enter Schoenbar, parents of this year's sixth graders. Their message was loud and clear; we and our children want a middle school program, not just a one year extension of their elementary education.

Sentiment strongly favored moving the middle school into modular buildings. Some suggested the modulars be clustered around the present Schoenbar site. Other suggested placing them at the high school. There was near unanimous consent that the school district's administrative offices be moved out of the high school to make room for the middle school program, if necessary. Assembly member George Tipton suggested that the offices be housed in the old Gateway Club building on the pulp mill site, now Borough property and presumably available free of charge.

Some suggested relocating the seventh and eighth graders to the high school utilizing split shifts and staggered school days. All agreed that holding classes in the Port West Plaza, an idea floated earlier by the School District Administration, was a poor idea. There was sentiment for waiting a year until the new White Cliff school is built and then moving the seventh and eighth grades into the old White Cliff building. One audience member pointed out that by building White Cliff this year and remodeling Schoenbar next year, construction would be extended over two years, a boon to local construction workers in these bad economic times.

When it was pointed out that the lease and installation of modular classrooms could cost between $500,000 to $1,000,000, no one felt that the money should come from construction funds. Most felt that the entire $9,000,000 approved by the voters should be used solely for the structure. There were numerous suggestions that the borough, which is responsible for construction of school buildings, should go back to the voters for additional bonding authority to cover the costs of housing students during construction.

In the end the various proposals were winnowed down to just four; use modular classrooms; implement a split schedule with Kayhi; finish new White Cliff first and use the old White Cliff building during the Schoenbar renovation; and, keep the new seventh grade in their present elementary schools and put the eighth grade at Kayhi. These four proposals will now be studied by the school district administrative staff and borough staff and costed out.

It goes without saying that costs will play a large part in the final decision. The school district, which had to absorb a $500,000 cut in borough funding last year, can ill afford to take a further hit this year by having to absorb the cost of temporary classrooms from money needed for instruction of children. The borough assembly, which has its own fiscal problems to grapple with this year, all that Ward Cove property suddenly gone from the tax roles for one, is going to be reluctant to commit any additional funds to the project. No one wants to raise taxes. But there is a value to being able to provide an uninterrupted middle school education to our youth too, and a cost if we don't. Kids, as every parent knows, don't wait until the paycheck comes in before they grow out of a pair of shoes.

This problem has a solution, but it will require elected leaders on both the school board and the assembly to be, well, leaders.


©Mike Harpold
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