by Mike Harpold
July 21, 2003
The elementary schools will have a full program including music, physical education and library. Two music teachers, two P.E. teachers and a librarian will rotate between Houghtaling, White Cliff and Point Higgins. The two charter schools are responsible for providing their own music, P.E. and library programs. Social workers, absent last year due to reduced borough funding, will once again be assigned to the elementary schools to help ensure that children arrive at school ready to learn, lessening the load on classroom teachers. An additional elementary teaching position has been budgeted to be assigned as needed should there be an unanticipated imbalance in enrollment at any school when kids show up for classes this fall.
Middle school will be split this year, the eighth grade attending classes at the high school and seventh graders attending classes, for the most part, at the elementary school they attended this past year due to the renovation of the Schoenbar building. Seventh grade math, English, Science and Social Studies will be taught by former Schoenbar teachers in morning classes. In the afternoon, students will rotate through a variety of elective classes. In town seventh grade students will participate in P.E. and shop classes at the high school. A middle school art teacher, a position cut earlier, has been restored to the budget.
At this writing, the school board and the superintendent are working on solving the funding issues affecting student extracurricular activities at the high school and middle school.
The borough assembly funded student travel, but explicitly denied funding for coaches salary and travel expenses. The affected student activities run the gamut from basketball and soccer to debate, music and drama. The board has not proposed to cut any of these activities and is exploring renewing its request to the assembly and/or seeking funding help from other sources. I am confident that the full range of student extracurricular activities will be available to high school and middle school students this fall.
By any account, the school district is not supposed to be at this point this year. The district had to absorb over $260,000 in staff pay increases. If that were not a tough enough job, it was eclipsed in proportion by the governor's proposed cut of Student Learning Opportunity grants, money given to local school districts by previous legislatures to help districts meet the requirements of the new High School Qualifying Exam and elementary and middle school benchmark exams. Eliminating learning opportunity grants and reductions in student transportation funding would have reduced state funding for Ketchikan schools by $465,000. After extensive lobbying by school districts around the state, including Ketchikan, the legislature put the money previously distributed to school districts as learning opportunity grants into the school foundation funding and our district came out slightly ahead.
We were not so successful at the local level. The Borough Assembly cut $520,000 from the local funding contribution and $112,000 from student activity fees. Despite our pleas, these cuts have not been restored, and the board chose to make up for them largely by cutting $280,000 out of school maintenance and operations.
The assembly also made the district's job a lot harder next year by refusing the school board's request to delay the Schoenbar renovation until White Cliff was replaced and the middle school could occupy the old White Cliff building during the Schoenbar renovation. Perversely, that decision helped solve the funding dilemma because of the money saved by laying off the principal, not filling positions that became vacant at the end of the year and not having to fund maintenance or utilities for the building.
Throughout the process the board and the superintendent have focused their efforts on one thing, providing the best education possible to our children. Now it is time to forget about the adults and say to students, parents, teachers and staff - 'Have a great school year.'
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