Candidates for a one-year term on the Ketchikan School Board discuss issues at a Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce forum on September 4th. From left: Hilary Kvasnikoff, Leslie Becker, Paul Robbins, Jr. and Kathleen Yarr (KRBD staff photo by Eric Stone).

Candidates for the one-year seat on the Ketchikan School Board participated in a Chamber of Commerce forum Wednesday. They shared their views on proposed cuts to state education funding, how abuse situations should be addressed, and what they hope to accomplish if elected.

The four candidates running for the one-year seat participated in the forum. They are incumbent Leslie Becker, Hilary Kvasnikoff, Paul Robbins, Jr. and Kathleen Yarr.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed cuts to K-12 education divided the candidates. Becker said there probably should be cuts made but didn’t have enough information to say where.

“But I do believe we have some good leadership in place that is willing to make some tough decisions, so that things that maybe have been misplaced, displaced, or inappropriately used can be more effectively applied in future budget years.”

Robbins suggested the board analyze the impact of smaller budgets.

“I would just say the school board needs to remain focused on the budget that it has, and making sure we get the maximum benefit from the limited resources we do have.”

The biggest difference in outlook was from Yarr who supports Gov. Dunleavy’s statewide cost-cutting.

“…and the walls are lined with curriculum, and it’s just a big, roaring waste. All you have to do is go on the Department of Education website and look at what the Alaska standards are and if you’re a good teacher you just align your lesson plans with the Alaska standards and you can use what you have.”

She says she supports eliminating preschool through kindergarten.

That was contrasted by Kvasnikoff who does not support cuts to education.

“I believe (in) overviewing and seeing what is extra to us.  What do we have that other places don’t that we can live without?”

Each candidate was asked about how Ketchikan schools could better protect students from abuse. Yarr criticized the school district for giving its superintendent what she saw as an over-generous severance payout following questions of how he handled complaints of criminal sexual abuse at the high school.

“And that’s not what happened in the incident with the culinary arts teacher.  It was not handled properly. And the fact that that superintendent walked away with $53,000 of our dollars is beyond the beyonds in my opinion.”

She was referring to Superintendent Robert Boyle’s exit following the arrest and conviction of former culinary arts teacher and pastor Doug Edwards for sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl who was a student and parishioner.

Kvasnikoff says she is concerned about bullying. She says she was bullied when younger and didn’t feel like she had anyone in her corner.

“I believe that if we have more advocates who reach out to kids, who constantly go to the schools to advocate for the positive environment and how bullying is not cool.

Becker, the incumbent, says the district is updating its abuse policy. But, she says she agrees with Yarr that enforcement of the rules is key.

So we need to be compliant in working to make sure we are achieving that and not allow things to fall through the cracks.”

Robbins says the most important thing is to take initial reports of abuse seriously.

So that victims know that their accusations will be taken into account. And second, you need to empower those victims through education.”

Robbins added he would encourage the district to pursue independent, evidence-based investigations for any credible report or accusation.

Candidates elaborated on their vision for education during closing remarks.  Kathleen Yarr says the district should cut back on extracurricular activities including Ketchikan’s decades-long exchange program to Kanayama, Japan.

We don’t need that. We need the basics. The reading, the writing and the arithmetic.”

Robbins says he doesn’t have any grand agenda or personal goals. He just wants to be a member of a team and help boost public participation.

“Because I believe that my role as a school board member is just to be a member of the team, to take in the data that is presented to us, do some additional research, accept the input from the public that come to those meetings, which I hope we’ll see a lot more public coming to those meetings.”

Becker agreed that the public needs to get more involved in education. She says that means parents and faculty taking an interest in the school district’s business.

If we need to do some tough work and we need to dig in, we need to be willing to do that. We need to pull back the veil and look at what’s in there. If the baby’s ugly, the baby’s ugly. We ought to fix it.”

Kvasnikoff pledged to be transparent in her dealings. She is the youngest candidate running and says that brings a different perspective.

“I understand it might be a little questionable for people who are voting. But I would like to see somebody just, really out there, who wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves. This is me giving my time to the community.”

The two candidates running for the two, three-year terms, incumbent Bridget Mattson and Jordan Tabb, did not attend the chamber forum. But they are expected to appear on KRBD’s school board candidate forum on September 10th at 7 p.m..

Voters will go to the polls on October 1st. Early voting begins on September 16th.