Under the threat of court action from the legislature, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy last week (7-17-19) released statewide education funding, which will allow school districts to open as usual later this August.
In Sitka, the payment also means eighteen untenured teachers who had been given pink slips at the end of last year will be receiving contracts.
The timing is extraordinarily tight. The money arrived in the district’s account on Monday, July 22, and contracts were delivered today (on Friday, July 26). Teachers have 30 days to sign them, but school reopens in Sitka in just under three weeks, on August 15.
“So we are down to the wire. This is incredibly frustrating,” said Mary Wegner, superintendent of Sitka’s schools. She says that although schools will open as usual this fall, the funding dispute between the governor and legislature is far from over. The governor has contested a one-time statewide grant of $30 million to schools, made by his predecessor and a previous legislature.
The Sitka School Board was counting on at least $150,000 of that grant to cover additional hires. Wegner says that four positions remain open in the district.
“So we still have new hires that we’re not able to bring on board,” said Wegner. “There are a number of those positions. We had some retirements and we had some teachers who said this funding situation is not something I want to be a part of, and they left the teaching profession, and some moved south.”
The vacancies are: a Blatchley Middle School Music teacher and Science teacher, and one teacher in Kindergarten and first grade.
Music is one of the largest classes in the middle school. Wegner says it’s going to be difficult to cover — but it will be covered.
“Well we would not want to have that gap in our programming for Music,” she said. “So we would see if there’s an existing teacher that we could move around, perhaps. We’d try to do whatever we can to fill it.”
Wegner said that — regardless of the outcome of the legislative lawsuit — the district was not counting on receiving any money from the grant until next January. The Sitka School Board will meet on August 7 to consider its options for filling the four open positions.
A contract offered for Community Schools
The Sitka School District is optimistic that Community Schools will reopen this fall.
The popular after-school and weekend activities and sports program closed on July 1, after the contractor — Matthew Turner — declined to bid on a significantly lower contract.
During an interview with KCAW on Wednesday, July 24, Superintendent Mary Wegner said progress had been made.
“So we did offer the Community Schools contract to one individual,” Wegner said, “and I have some meetings today to figure out what might happen. It could be very exciting but it’s still a bit up in the air. I hope to have something finalized for the school board to approve on August 7.”
Although the contract has been offered to an individual, Wegner said she believed that Community Schools would be operated collaboratively by several nonprofit organizations which are active already in providing youth programs.