Candidates for the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly and School Board answered questions during a Chamber of Commerce-sponsored forum Wednesday, with a focus on school district funding.
Education funding is an annual argument between the two governments. The Assembly decides what the local funding contribution will be each year, but only after the School Board submits a budget based on how much that elected body believes it should get. The two numbers rarely match.
Incumbent Alan Bailey said the Assembly shouldn’t micromanage how the district spends that local contribution.
“We will probably disagree in terms of specific amounts, but let there be no question as to the commitment of what I believe the Assembly (has) to the students, to the teachers, and to making that successful,” he said.
Bailey gave some details about how the Assembly, because of reduced federal funding, has gradually cut the local contribution, but he said the district budget continues to increase despite those cuts.
John Harrington, a former Assembly and School Board member who hopes to return to the Assembly, said there will always be tension between the two bodies.
“The only kind of salvation I see out there is the actions the Borough Assembly has been taking lately regarding trying to get the state to step forward and do what is their responsibility, which is to totally fund basic education,” he said.
Incumbent School Board Member Dave Timmerman agrees with Harrington that full state funding is essential. He added that the board does feel micromanaged by the Assembly, but that could be a personality conflict.
“Some of the problems I have with getting along with the Assembly in the past is when certain Assembly members roll their eyes at certain comments, and public displays of aggravation at the table instead of being able to deal with that personally, or in a room, or professionally,” he said.
Trevor Shaw, a high school student running for School Board, agreed that the process is broken, but said it’s up to the elected officials to fix that process.
“The students that we are providing an education for, they are the future constituents, they are the future taxpayers, they are the doctors, the business people, the people that are going to build our future,” he said. “And if we can’t even work things out between us, how are we going to help get them from point A to point B and even beyond that. We have to work together; we have to find common ground. It has to start with us right here, right now.”
Incumbent Assembly Member Bill Rotecki, running to keep his seat, said he supports public funding of education, even though he has no children in the school system.
“Why? Not because of the kids but because of society,” he said. “I hire people – I’m a carpenter – I hire people, and if they can’t do fractions, it’s like, ‘Yeah, it’d be great if we have a decimal system, but we don’t.’”
The two School Board candidates were asked what they would cut from the budget, if they had to make a choice, and both said they couldn’t make that decision now. They agreed, though, that activities and classes such as music are what keep many students from dropping out.
The Assembly candidates addressed the ongoing contentious relationship with the City of Ketchikan. Bailey said the two governments generally work cooperatively, and blamed the media for making the relationship seem more rocky than it is. Rotecki said he supports a consolidated government, but that will have to come from the people.
Near the end of the forum, Timmerman had a question for Harrington, who had been elected to the School Board a couple of years ago, and then resigned in the middle of his term. Timmerman asked whether Harrington would remain on the Assembly for a full term, if elected.
Harrington answered with an explanation: “The problem was I had a choice to make. Either I had to be far more aggressive, far more assertive and far more argumentative, and as I perceived it, that wasn’t going to go very far. It was only going to cause disruption and instability. Or I could quit and shut up about School Board stuff. I toyed with that decision for quite a while, and said, ‘I’m going to opt to get off and shut up.’”
Harrington said that, if faced with a similar decision on the Assembly, he would choose to stay and fight.
Camille Booth is the third School Board candidate. She was out of town and not able to participate in the forum.
A Chamber forum for Ketchikan City Council candidates is next Wednesday. The local election is Oct. 1.