Local News

Board takes ‘different slant’ on school funding request

The Sitka School Board is revising its capital funding request for the coming year, in the hope of finding some money in an unfriendly legislative environment.

The board held a work session earlier this week (11-19-13). Because of bad weather and scheduling conflicts, only president Lon Garrison and member Jen Robinson were present for the board. However, Superintendent Steve Bradshaw and most of his administrative team appeared — all expressing a strong preference for additional money to support the transition to Alaska’s version of the “Common Core” standards.

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Bradshaw described the problem in very clear terms.

“I don’t see any way, without cutting positions, of purchasing material.”

Curriculum materials will consist both of new textbooks, and increased digital bandwidth for teaching and testing. Bradshaw said the district would also require more days to train teachers in the new curriculum, and more days to work with teachers on the new evaluation process they’ll be subject to.

The new state standards go into effect for school districts next year, and school boards — like Sitka’s — are working to find a way to pay to implement them. At the district’s last regular meeting, Bradshaw estimated the costs to adopt the new standards, develop online testing tools, and evaluate teachers to be several hundred thousand dollars.

This is a different funding tack for Sitka Schools, which has typically asked the state for large capital projects — like building renovations, and new ballfields. At the top of last year’s priority list, for example, was a complete overhaul of the lower Moller Field track & field complex — at a cost of over $6-million. That request has been set aside, for now. The Republican-led Education committees in both chambers of the the Alaska Legislature have been openly critical of excessive spending for public education.

Board president Lon Garrison has been active on the district’s lobbying team over the last several years. He thought it was important to scale back.

“I really tried to take a different slant on this from the major capital projects which we’ve focused on in the past, to try and focus on — given the political reality of where we’re at, given the reality of what’s in front of us to do — the items I think would make sense to ask the legislature to help us with.”

Garrison ran through a list of small scale projects — like high-efficiency lighting, and Fish-to-Schools — that he thought might win approval of legislators, but the school administrators present wanted to focus on curriculum and staff development to meet the state’s new standards.

Jen Robinson, the only other board member present, agreed that academic achievement should be the top priority. She and Garrison included some smaller construction projects — such as new playground equipment at Keet Gooshi Heen — on their list. They also decided to renew their standing request to the legislature to increase the amount of money it contributes per pupil to districts statewide.

The district’s list of capital priorities for 2014 will not be official until it is voted on by the full board at its next regular meeting.


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