In Ketchikan, 2018 was marked by controversy and scandal in the Ketchikan School District. Below is a summary of some of the past year’s events for Ketchikan, Prince of Wales Island and Metlakatla.
The whole community was shocked when longtime Ketchikan High School culinary arts teacher Doug Edwards was arrested in June, and charged with three counts of sexual abuse of a minor. Police said that Edwards admitted to groping a 14-year-old girl’s bare chest at the school, at his home and at the church where he was a pastor.
Edwards had just retired, with much fanfare. Following his arrest, a citizen complaint was filed with the Ketchikan School Board against then-Superintendent Robert Boyle. The board eventually hired an investigator to look into the district’s actions related to Edwards, who is scheduled for trial in spring of 2019.
Soon after the district’s final investigative report was delivered during an executive session to the board in December, Boyle submitted his resignation. He cited “a number of things” as reasons.
“Those things percolate up to the top and I’m at the top,” he said. “And so, I’ve got to say there it is and address that issue and offer the road for new beginnings and changes.”
Another of those issues was teacher-contract negotiations, which had been ongoing since the previous year. By early February, the union announced it was filing an unfair-labor-practice complaint against the district’s negotiating team.
That complaint was dismissed, but complaints against the district’s negotiators in general, and Boyle specifically, dominated public comment at school board meetings throughout much of the year.
Here’s a sample, from parent Liz Jones: “As a school district, you have an amazing group of teachers and support staff. If this is how you’re treating your teachers now, what kind of disrespect and contempt – and I realize that’s a really strong word, but I feel fitting given the level the negotiations have stooped to – will you be giving your support staff, paras, custodians and administrative assistants when their contracts are up for negotiations next?”
In August, a citizen effort to recall Board President Trevor Shaw over contract negotiations led to Shaw’s resignation. And in October, several new school board members were elected. All those elected had campaigned on resolving contract negotiations. By late November, a new three-year contract was signed.
Shaw’s wasn’t the only school board resignation. Vice-president Kim Hodne announced his resignation from the board in November, citing disagreement over the new teacher contract.
In more positive education news, Schoenbar Middle School student Grace Parrott competed in the national spelling bee in Washington, D.C., in May; and Ketchikan High School’s Academic Decathlon team won the state championships in February, and then brought home a first-place win from the national competition in April.
They were welcomed home by a large, enthusiastic crowd, despite the downpour.
In 2018, the City of Ketchikan also welcomed the first mega cruise ship, the Norwegian Bliss, which carried 4,000 passengers weekly.
KRBD’s summer intern, Liam Neimeyer, asked captain Steffan Bengtsson: “There’s waterslides, a go-kart track — anything I’m missing?”
“We have a crash-landed space craft up on deck 20,” Bengtsson responded. “Not many cruise ships have that.”
That extra-large ship was the first of a wave scheduled to start arriving in Alaska over the next few years, slowly replacing some of the current fleet. Dock reconfigurations will be required to accommodate those bigger ships, costing millions in port fees.
Over on Prince of Wales Island, 2018 was marked by a summertime visit from Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, who announced plans for an Alaska-specific Roadless Rule, which is still in process.
POW residents also had a bit of a debate with the state Department of Transportation over snow-clearing at the Klawock Airport. DOT and Prince of Wales residents worked out a compromise for the big island’s only airport for this winter.
Island Air Express co-owner Scott Van Valin said that compromise was OK for now.
“Long-story short, the Band-aid fix is acceptable, but the long-term solution has yet to be addressed as far as getting Klawock Airport listed as an attended airport with much more realistic hours of operation or hours of maintenance,” he said.
In Metlakatla, residents of the state’s only Native reserve voted to align with Alaska Standard Time and to allow alcohol sales on Annette Island. Metlakatla residents also celebrated their annual Founder’s Day with games, booths, contests, and traditional dancing.
Founder’s Day commemorates the community’s original settlers, who traveled from British Columbia 131 years ago to create a new Tsimshian community in Alaska.