The Sitka School Board approved salaries for the coming year for all staff at its regular meeting this week (6-24-15). They also raised fees for using Blatchley Pool, and received the resignation of member Tom Conley, who’s recently been in poor health.
The salary vote was a matter of routine, except for one item: Member Tim Fulton asked for a discussion on the hiring of two people to job-share the position of assistant superintendent.
Phil Burdick and Sarah Ferrency have been job sharing for the past 11 years — the last five as co-principals of Pacific High School in Sitka. This spring, the husband-and-wife team was promoted by superintendent Mary Wegner to fill the job vacated by Robyn Taylor, who has moved to Fairbanks.
Fulton told the board he had received some pushback from the public concerning the hire, but he wanted to express his full support for the decision.
“Nothing but good can come from this,” he told the board.
President Lon Garrison agreed. He saw opportunities and possibilities in hiring an experienced team to fill a single position. And, like Fulton, he didn’t see a downside.
“And while it’s very different, you know, why not?”
Member Tom Conley also supported the hire. He considered both Ferrency and Burdick to be excellent administrators. “They will have no trouble doing the job we envision,” he said.
But it was Cass Pook who spoke to the specific skills the pair would bring to the job. Pook has focused much of her board career on closing the achievement gap for Native students in the district.
She thought the experience Burdick and Ferrency brought from Pacific High would pay dividends for the entire district.
“Sometimes we’re kind of walking in the dark, and now we have a flashlight. I appreciate that Sarah and Phil have taken this position, because I think they’ll be able to give us insight into where we’re missing thing, and not on the track that we need to be to help kids to get to school on time, to help kids up their scores. Sometimes we think we do, and we don’t.”
In other business, the school board raised fees for the use of Blatchley Swimming Pool. The increase is significant, especially for private rentals of the pool.
The largest customer in that category is the Baranof Barracudas Swim Club. President Kevin Knox said his organization experienced some heartburn over the proposed increases, but he appreciated the efforts of the district to not price the club out of business.
“If the pool is gone, the club is gone. And it’s got to be able to stand on its own. It really does. We understand that. Given the passion and given the committment to the club, it does get a little tense sometimes, but we did a pretty good job of working through it and getting to a number. And while the number is going to be an increase for us, it’s not going to kill us.”
Knox described the Blatchley Pool, which was built in the 1970s, as the “oldest, operating pool in Alaska.” All pools built previously in the state, according to Knox, have since been closed.
The hourly rate at Blatchley will jump from $45 to $75. The single swim cost for adults will go up from $4 to $6. Existing punch cards will be honored through the end of the year, but after that swimmers who want to buy in bulk will be offered 1-month or 3-month passes for $100 and $250 respectively.
There are significant discounts for seniors and students.
District business manager Cassee Olin told the board that she’d analyzed costs at the pool for the last ten years, and developed the price scheme to sustainably operate the pool.
During district budget hearings this spring, many members of the public testified in support of raising rates to keep the pool open. Board president Lon Garrison said this fee schedule reflected that interest, and also reflected the real costs of running the pool.
“Frankly, we’ve been getting a free ride on some of this stuff. And we have not done our due diligence as a board to make sure that we’re looking at what it really costs to operate this. And now we’re having to catch up.”
The board approved the rate increase at the pool. They’ll revisit the fees at least every two years.
And finally, the board meeting closed on a bittersweet note as member Tom Conley submitted his resignation. Conley was elected unopposed last fall to a three-year term, despite his being quite open about suffering from Parkinson’s Disease.
Conley told the board that he had spent most of the past month in the hospital, and he felt that symptoms like memory loss were beginning to get the better of him.
Conley has spent nearly 14 years on the school board. Prior to his most recent election, he served from 1999-2012. He also has served on the Ketchikan school board.
Conley’s letter contained no effective date. “I’ll stick around until you find someone to replace me,” he said.
In all likelihood, the board will appoint a replacement to serve until this October’s municipal election, when voters will choose a candidate to fill out the remaining two years in Conley’s term.