The Ketchikan Gateway Borough School Board met in regular session Wednesday. In a quick but busy session, it discussed potential sticking points with the borough, city and even the state.
“It’s a way for them to keep us under their thumb,” says Board Member Misty Archibald of the Borough Assembly-School Board Liaison Committee, the inter-governmental group that generally meets once a month to discuss issues of mutual concern, including the School District budget.
But Archibald, who serves on the committee, and other School Board members are concerned that the meetings are unproductive at best, and a tool for the Assembly to keep the Board in line at worst.
“I think we have valuable discussions, but it feels very one-sided. I do think that it needs to be more of a collaborative effort, a two-way street,” she says.
An issue raised by the Board was how the strict monthly schedule of the Liaison Committee can actually be detrimental to its intended goal. In times of intense budget negotiation, for example, waiting for a committee meeting to address time-sensitive issues can slow down the process.
Board Member Michelle O’Brien suggested canceling scheduled meetings entirely. If meetings are held on an issue-to-issue basis, she says, it might make the process more productive. The idea was met positively by other board members, who mostly agree they want to build on a generally positive relationship with the Borough Assembly. The board decided, somewhat ironically, to bring up the issue to the Assembly at the next Liaison meeting.
Moving to another inter-government argument, Superintendent Robert Boyle hinted at the next steps in the ongoing debate between the School District, Borough and City of Ketchikan over the library consortium.
He cites increasing costs to the School District of remaining in the consortium, which cooperates mutually to share library services with the university and Ketchikan Public Library, as his reason for exploring a potential exit strategy.
“There are very distinct advantages for us to remain in the consortium,” Boyle says, “so rather than rush into judgement or change the structure of or take apart something that has been a very successful agreement within our community for 15 years, I have asked our librarians and technology to sit down with the consortium to have a discussion to see what we can do. But at this point, my observation is that it’s too expensive for the District to participate in at this level.”
Also at the meeting Boyle hinted at a simmering conflict with the state of Alaska over the status of Revilla Alternative School. The state’s Department of Education and Early Development had rejected an earlier request by the District to merge both the Fast Track program with the existing alternative program; the added student count would have put Revilla over the minimum requirement to count as a separate school under state law. That classification would have qualified the District for more state funds.
Boyle says DEED has rejected an appeal of that decision. The next step is to take the issue to Superior Court, but DEED has given the administration until September 20th to make a decision. Boyle says he hopes to reach a settlement with the state before then.
The board also discussed a program this year to measure the height and weight of students in the school district to determine their body mass index, or BMI. The measurements are required by the federal government to qualify for a grant to support the district’s wellness program.
Parents will receive a letter in the mail informing them of the program. Addressing concerns over privacy, Board Member Michelle O’Brien says that reasons for the measurements should be included in those letters.
“When they receive this letter in the mail, it’s not Big Brother watching over them,” O’Brien says, “it’s ‘wow this is really cool, this is what the school district is doing for me and my family.'”
About 29 percent of the student body in the Ketchikan School District are overweight or obese, according to the administration. The Wellness Program aims to reduce overall rates of obesity by 4 to 5 percent.
The School Board also voted unanimously to approve new language in its policy over how gifts to the District are reported. Moving forward, only cash donations of more than $10,000 must be reported to the School Board, and therefor the public.