Five candidates for three seats on the Ketchikan Gateway Borough School Board attended KRBD’s on-air candidate forum Monday. They answered questions about school choice, standardized testing and district finances.
Two of the three open School Board seats are full three-year terms. The candidates running for those seats are incumbent Diane Gubatayao, former school board member David Timmerman and current Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly Member Glen Thompson.
There also is a one-year seat open on the school board. Running for that seat are incumbent Glenn Brown and political newcomer Bill Blankenship.
Gubatayao has served one year on the school board. She was appointed to the position after a board member resigned. But, she served on the board previously and has a background in education.
“If I had to summarize my philosophy in a few words, it would be my dedication to empowering students, to empowering them to be the best that can be and to provide them the best education possible,” she said.
Timmerman works in the tourism industry, and previously worked as a city harbormaster and in commercial fishing. He served on the school board from 2009 through 2016, then took a break. Timmerman said he was a high school dropout, and that experience made him realize the importance of keeping kids in school.
Thompson has served on the assembly for two consecutive terms, and can’t run for re-election because of term limits. He served on that body for two previous terms, as well, and said public service is important to him. He said establishing a local school funding formula was his greatest achievement on the assembly.
“I was proud to have spearheaded the effort, because it provided the school district the means to adequately fund the quality education system that we have in Ketchikan, and to build healthy reserves for times of uncertainty,” he said. “And I believe right now, there’s about $3 million in that fund.”
Blankenship has lived in Ketchikan about two years. He’s a pastor, and has worked as a paraprofessional in the local school system. Blankenship said he is passionate about education and providing opportunities for youth.
Brown is completing his first term on the school board. He said he looked back on the goals he listed when he campaigned three years ago, and is happy to say he’s made progress on them all. They were: improving the relationship between the assembly and school board, maintaining the financial health of the district, and increasing career and technical education opportunities.
“I think we’ve done that in the last couple years, we’ve had some good things going on in the welding side, some of the relationships we’ve built with the shipyard. And on the maritime front, with the Jack Cotant,” he said. “I’m really looking this coming year to push the relationship between UAS and our district farther on the maritime and fishing front.”
The Jack Cotant is the district’s fishing boat, used for vocational maritime training.
Other candidates agreed that more vocational classes would help students who aren’t planning to head to college. Thompson added that kids also need to learn work ethics to succeed in any career.
School choice is a valued Ketchikan tradition that isn’t available in a lot of places Down South. For the most part, that tradition is intact, but the school board this past year empowered the superintendent to limit enrollment, and direct parents to other schools if classes started getting overcrowded.
All the candidates say they support school choice, and want to maintain that in Ketchikan. But they also understand the need to limit enrollment in certain cases. Timmerman said the district can’t ignore the financial implications, and it has to be an option if needed.
“When it comes down to money, and you’re going to be able to save money and that’s going to help not impact the programs, the curriculums, the actual learning experience and what we’re going to give our kids. There’s a chance that you’re going to have to … put in boundaries,” he said.
The candidates also were asked to pick one thing the community can do to improve local schools. Most agreed that more parental involvement would make a huge difference.
That includes providing input to government and paying attention to what their kids are doing. Here’s Blankenship:
“What happens so many times is we… let the school handle our kids. You can’t do that,” he said. “That’s why we’ve had such a decline in this country in so many different places. The parents aren’t the ones parenting anymore. They’re expecting the schools to do it.”
The five candidates also talked about Ketchikan’s not-so-great scores from the past school year’s state standardized tests. They agreed that those scores, and other standardized tests, are a good guide for the district, but shouldn’t be considered the only measure of Ketchikan’s public school system.
If you’d like to listen to the entire two-hour candidate forum, we have it posted below. Our next election forum is Sept. 20th at 7 p.m., featuring candidates for Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly.