While not an agenda item, the Ketchikan School Board spent some time Wednesday talking about a recent proposal from a Borough Assembly member that would provide grants for any student in the district to use for the education program of their family’s choice.
The grants would replace discretionary funding that the borough traditionally has provided to the school district. Those grants could be used for private schools, home schooling programs or for attending public school.
The proposal was drafted by Assembly Member Glen Thompson, and it first went to the School Board-Assembly Liaison Committee, which met Tuesday. Thompson proposes taking the equivalent of 2.5 mills of the borough’s 5-mill property tax rate, and parceling it into grants.
The liaison committee voted to forward the proposal to the Assembly, which likely will talk about it during its meeting on Monday. If the Assembly chooses to move forward with the idea, an ordinance could come back for first reading as early as Aug. 3.
School Board members, while not rejecting the proposal, had some concerns. One was the fast-track on which the idea seems to have been placed.
Board President Michelle O’Brien said the proposal needs to be better crafted, to avoid unintended consequences.
“How is it going to be managed, for example if, a student who is 18 years old – who’s 18, an adult – who is going to get their GED, and runs over and said, I want my $1,350,” she said. “What management practices are in place that insures that individual uses that $1,350 to indeed obtain the GED as opposed to take a trip to Costa Rica?”
Speaking of management, other questions O’Brien said need to be ironed out include: How would the program be administered? Who would pay those administrative costs? And what about local students who participate in correspondence schools offered by other districts?
Board Member Stephen Bradford suggested that the School Board meet in special work session with Borough Assembly members, to talk about the proposal in depth, “just so that we can sit with the Assembly and discuss this. It’s a fairly significant modification to how things have been done. We have questions and concerns and would like opportunity for input.”
Other board members agreed, but were concerned about the tight timeline. A potential first reading on Aug. 3 provides a little more than two weeks, and different Board members are going to be out of town at different times during those two weeks.
O’Brien plans to draft a memo to the Assembly asking that a first reading on the issue be delayed to a later meeting in August. That would provide more time to plan a work session.
Schools Superintendent Robert Boyle had another suggestion. He said the issue is too significant to leave to the Assembly alone.
“When you’re talking about creating a voucher system with our borough funds, then you’ve gone into a realm that’s bigger than the value of an ordinance,” he said. “I think it’s something that should go to the voters.”
Also Wednesday, the School Board unanimously approved curriculum updates for the district’s library, English Language Arts and World Language programs; and unanimously approved a milk contract with Tatsuda’s IGA.
The next regular School Board meeting is Aug. 12. A board retreat is scheduled for July 28.