Recommendations from the school district’s Indian Policy and Procedures Committee were largely accepted by the Ketchikan School Board on Wednesday.
The recommendations were developed by the committee with input from members of the public. They call for district officials to meet quarterly with local Native representatives to assess education opportunities for Native students. They also call for an increase in the amount of Alaska Native culture taught in the schools, including celebration of National Native Heritage Month each November.
Board President Ginny Clay said she supports more Native culture in the schools.
“One of the points was about greater emphasis on celebrating and observing National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month,” she said. “One of the suggestions was the celebrating part would come from the schools, they would be doing that. And then the observing part would come from the School Board: easy fix. It’s an easy thing. And I appreciate that a lot of these things are easy.”
Additional recommendations include cultural training for school staff, regular discussion of Native education by the School Board, and research into different instruction methods for Native children. The only item the board was reluctant to implement was adding a standing discussion item to the agenda.
During public comment, James Llanos spoke to the board in favor of the recommendations.
“I have 28 grandkids in your school. I have 13 great-grandkids in your school. My slow walk up here wasn’t for dramatics. It’s because I’m slowing down. But I’m still going to fight for my kids,” he said.
He noted that last year, a Native student tried putting up posters in celebration of Elizabeth Peratrovich Day, which celebrates Native civil rights in Alaska. The student was told to remove them, and Llanos said the student felt her culture was not appreciated.
Also Wednesday, the board talked at length about the district’s budget process. Superintendent Robert Boyle said that the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly anticipates a tighter budget next year. Part of that stems from the push to cut the national budget, which means Congress is expected to cut federal Secure Rural Schools funds.
So, borough officials told Boyle to expect a local contribution of about $7.7 million, which is about $600,000 less than the current school year. He said that kind of cut would be painful for local schools.
“One would be a cut of our preschool program. That’s outside of our K-6 requirements, so I have to put that on the table,” he said. “It would require us cutting one elementary teacher, one middle school teacher, one Kayhi teacher, Fast Track, one maintenance worker and we’re already down and they’re taxed at this time, and then cut into our supplies which would include our technology budgets.”
A local contribution of $8.3 million would maintain the status quo.
Board Member Stephen Bradford said the School Board has an obligation to build a budget that serves the needs of the district. The Assembly then has 30 days to approve or reject the budget as presented.
“And during that time, we would have the opportunity to discuss with them why we think that’s the appropriate amount,” he said. “It would be a time for the citizens to either reflect that we agree with the School Board, you should be funding at that level, or they can call the Assembly members and say don’t fund anything to that school district.”
The board encouraged public participation in the district budget process. The first special budget meeting is Thursday, starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Ketchikan High School library. A second meeting is 1 p.m. Saturday at the school district central office.
The board met in executive session at the end of Wednesday’s meeting to discuss the superintendent’s evaluation. Following the closed-door session, Clay announced that the board gave direction and that Board Member Bradford will meet with Boyle.
The next regular School Board meeting is Feb. 13.