Candidates Michelle O'Brien and Glenn Brown in the KRBD studio.

Candidates Michelle O’Brien and Glenn Brown in the KRBD studio.

The two candidates for Ketchikan School Board talked about their hopes for the school district at a KRBD call-in forum Monday evening.

Michelle O’Brien is running for re-election to the School Board. Glenn Brown is running for the seat current board member Misty Archibald is leaving.

Brown has experience serving on the school board in his former Pennsylvania hometown. He says one of his main goals as a board member here would be to improve vocational-technical training.

“People in Ketchikan do things,” Brown said. “They make things, they build things, and they do things. And we need to have kids prepared with skills to take those jobs.”

O’Brien is the current School Board president. She says one of her main goals is to focus on inclusive education.

“So for example,something that is very important to me and I believe that is very important to the success of our district is Revilla [Alternative School,]” O’Brien said. “That alternative education and the way that learning style is influenced with our students, as well as Fast Track.”

Both candidates say the school district needs to think about how to deal with a potential population boom.

“If the shipyard is hiring an additional 300 employees, you’ve got hospital expansion, you have possible National Guard expansion, Coast Guard expansion, mining. We need a real plan moving forward,” O’Brien said.

“What are the capacities of the buildings?” Brown said. “It’s dollars, it’s space, it’s staff. There’s a lot of components to it. So I think the board’s job is to ask those questions.”

O’Brien says the School Board plans to hold a work session with the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly to talk about potential ramifications of a student increase.

Brown and O’Brien agree that the school district shouldn’t rule out capping enrollment at elementary schools. This year, unexpected high enrollments at elementary schools caused the district to hire two last-minute teachers at Houghtaling and Point Higgins.

Brown says he would like to improve the relationship between the School Board and Borough Assembly. He says he hopes to bring more “moderate tones” to the funding discussion that happens between the two.

“You only build distrust when you don’t know the other people,” he said. “I think if you can build those personal relationships, there’s a credibility that comes with the ask.”

“The ask” meaning the School Board’s request for funding from the borough. O’Brien says she hopes to start the conversation about what the School District needs funded earlier on.

Brown and O’Brien also agree that the state does not have an obligation to help fund activities travel for schools like Ketchikan that are off of the road system.

“You’re really talking about should we somehow socialize the cost across the state of these teams traveling,” Brown said. “[The travel cost] just comes with the territory.”

O’Brien says that asking for state funding to help offset the huge cost of activities travel is just not realistic.

“I think that the better way to concentrate on travel costs is to lobby the marine highway system,” she said. “It cost us $40,000 last year because the marine highway system changed their schedule.”

O’Brien talked about two main things she would like improve in Ketchikan schools. One is strengthening the distance delivery program.

“The second thing that really bothers me is our Native education program,” she said. “I don’t think we’ve given that the attention it deserves.”

She says she’d like to see the School Board’s Indian Policy and Procedures Committee grow. O’Brien says she’d also like to see Native history and culture education strengthened in the schools.

Brown says the Alaska high school graduation rate is one of his biggest concerns for the school district.

“The current [state] administration is crowing over the term that it’s increased from an abysmal 68% to a slightly less abysmal 71% statewide,” Brown said. “I think that should strike every Alaskan as an embarrassment.”

Even though Ketchikan has a higher graduation rate, Brown says it’s something every Alaska school district should be concerned about.

A caller suggested School Board members should sit in on classrooms in the district. Brown and O’Brien say they think that would be valuable. O’Brien says she would like to hear from more teachers and members of the public. Brown agreed.

“I would hope that people would take an interest in [the School Board] because you have an opportunity to shape it,” Brown said.

The local election is October 7th.

Full interview with Brown and O’Brien: