Four of the five candidates running for three, 3-year terms on the Ketchikan School Board participated in Wednesday’s Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce forum. The candidates discussed ongoing teacher contract negotiations and their goals if elected.
The five candidates are incumbents Matt Eisenhower and Lana Boler, and newcomers Rachel Breithaupt, Bridget Mattson and Sonya Skan. Eisenhower was unable to attend due to work travel. Chamber executive director Carrie Starkey moderated the forum. She read a prepared statement from Eisenhower.
In it, Eisenhower says he is running to bring stability, nurture healing, and provide the necessary leadership for the school district.
Eisenhower says his priorities are to complete a teacher contract, complete the external and independent audit and investigation of procedures used by the district relating to the sexual assault allegations against former teacher Doug Edwards, and determine whether corrective actions are needed. Eisenhower writes that he also would like to see the board improve communications with the public, students and faculty.
Breithaupt has lived in Ketchikan for four years, and is the mother of a 2-year-old. She says she wanted to get involved before her child entered the school system. Breithaupt was a teacher and is currently a social worker. She has an undergraduate degree in psychology and secondary degrees in education and social work.
“So I have made a profession of perspective taking and being able to see both the best in people, but also to realize that everyone makes mistakes and everyone has a hard time owning them.”
Breithaupt says, if elected, her goals would be to see the board and teachers’ union come to an agreement as soon as possible, improve vocational opportunities, and provide preschool for all children.
Boler was appointed to the school board last February, filling the seat vacated by Glenn Brown when he took the job of borough attorney. She has lived in Ketchikan since 1970 and was a Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District student. Boler says she left Ketchikan after the pulp mill shut down but returned two years ago when a job opportunity opened up. She says she has a daughter in the schools.
“With that varying perspective of being a former student and a parent of a student in the district, and being appointed to the school board since February, I think all of those perspectives have made me a really well-rounded board member.”
Boler says she would like to see several projects through to completion, including finalizing a teacher contract, and reviewing and revising policy based on the results of the internal investigation. Boler says she’d also like to see more vocational-technical opportunities.
Mattson has lived in Ketchikan for 15 years, and has served on non-profit boards. Her oldest child recently graduated from Kayhi, and her other four children are enrolled in the district.
“I’m running for the school board out of a desire to serve my community and to give back to a district that has helped and continues to help my children to learn and to develop into capable adults.”
Mattson believes a quality education depends on attracting and keeping quality teachers, and would like the board’s budget to reflect that. She says her top priority is to finalize the teacher contracts. Mattson says other priorities are school safety and vocational programs.
Skan has lived in Ketchikan since 1982 and is a Kayhi graduate. She says her five sons all went through the Ketchikan School District and she now has three grandchildren in the local schools. Skan works in the KIC education department. She says she’s running for the students.
“Because I want the kids to have a better place than I had. I want anything that we do to build up our children. So part of that is being an advocate. And I am an advocate and I will continue to an advocate no matter what. But I would love to do it from (the board).”
Skan says, if elected, she would like to see more transparency, and more unity on the school board. She’d also like to see a well-developed strategic plan that is followed.
The candidates were asked their understanding of the teacher contract negation issue and what they feel can be done to resolve it.
Skan says at a recent candidate forum at Ketchikan High School, teacher-contract negotiations were the number-one topic students brought up. She says this issue is not just affecting teachers, it’s affecting students.
“Because they know what’s going on and they don’t understand why there isn’t an answer, which shows that we are not being transparent. Because if we were, then they would be able to tell them, ‘This is what’s happening and this is why it’s happening.’”
Skan believes if contract negotiations are not handled properly, it will create bigger problems. She would like to see a contract that is fair to both sides.
Breithaupt says she recently spoke with Sarah Campbell, vice president of the Ketchikan Education Association, and superintendent Robert Boyle to hear both sides of the issue.
“So it’s not as if either group isn’t for the kids or for the teachers. It’s that either group has different ideas about how to get there.”
Breithaupt believe the impasse will be solved through arbitration.
Mattson says she also spoke with KEA vice president Campbell and has been attending school board meetings.
“I fully understand where some of the hurt feelings are coming from when it’s looked at from a financial standpoint of what has been offered raise wise and what has been paid out in attorney’s (fees). It becomes a bit of salt in a wound, I believe. We are in a small community and we do know each other here.”
Mattson says it’s important to focus on transparency so the public can understand what is or isn’t being negotiated.
Boler says the school board has worked to improve communications with KEA. She says there have been six meetings over the past two months.
“And because of that communication, which is so key between us and them, we’ve been able to reach multiple agreements on multiple sections. Are we there yet? No.”
Boler says she’s encouraged by the progress and believes a unified bargaining agreement will be reached.
The Ketchikan School Board selected Breithaupt to fill the seat a vacant seat on the board. If Breithaupt wins next Tuesday, she can choose either to keep the 1-year term she was appointed to, or accept the 3-year seat. If she wins and accepts the 3-year term, the school board will need to solicit candidates to fill the 1-year vacancy.
Following is the complete, 52-minute forum.