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Southeast Alaska News
JUNEAU — Congress has approved legislation providing $50 million to clean up abandoned oil and gas wells on current or former National Petroleum Reserve land.
Most of that money is expected to end up in Alaska, where state officials and Alaska’s congressional delegation have been pushing for the cleanup and reclamation of old well sites in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
The pair answered questions from the public in a live candidate forum Wednesday evening (9-25-13).
When he talks about the race, Lon Garrison makes it plain that now is not the time to bring in a new face to the board.
“Public education is under attack. There are a lot of people criticizing public education, and who would like to see some major changes happen. I think it’s really important that we have advocates who stand up for what public education means. And that also means standing up for the public process and understanding what it means to be a good school board member. And that doesn’t happen overnight.”
Stephen Courtright says this election is not about replacing anyone, but is instead about bringing in a perspective that is absent from the board.
“I come from a position where I believe that education policy needs to have the voice of professional educators involved. And that has been neglected for far too long at all levels.”
In some school board races around the country there are larger principles at stake, like whether to open charter schools, or to distribute public education funding to private institutions through a voucher system.
Garrison and Courtright are aligned on the purpose of public education, and its value. How you get there in the larger world of legislative politics might be a difference. A listener emailed a question to the forum about how the school board could offset some of the “negative pressure” on school funding in the legislature.
Courtright thinks that patience may not always be the best approach to politics.
“It is tough, and there is no easy — well, there is an easy answer. And that’s to kick down every door in Juneau until we get what we need. But, unfortunately the road to that answer is not as easy as it needs to be.”
Garrison has met face-to-face with legislators who are openly hostile to the idea of public schools. He looks for smaller victories.
“I try to present both what we’re doing well, and what we need to do and where we need to go, and how they can help us. What are the items that they can really work toward providing some solutions for. Rather than go in and be argumentative and try to convince them that they’re entirely wrong. I want to show them a way they can be right. A way they can be a part of the solution.”
Questions posed by listeners to the forum came in mostly through social media and email, and covered a spectrum of issues, like how to better celebrate the achievements of students, the role of the Tribe in district affairs, whether the district should provide internet access for students who don’t already have it at home, and how to better fund activities so kids don’t have to go door-to-door selling stuff.
Some questions were technical, like the one posed by the forum’s lone caller.
“How do you feel about adopting the common-core standards?”
The candidates were not far apart here, at least in their initial reactions.
Courtright – It’s an elephant in the room.
Garrison – Well, it’s a real conundrum.
But this issue did create some space between the candidates. Courtright views the new state standards through the lens of a teacher.
“It’s going to change the landscape. If I had been asked, I would have said that national standards were a great idea. But I don’t know that these are, because they haven’t been tested yet. We’re field testing them now as they go live. And we’re doing things like taking Algebra from high school and putting it in eighth grade. That might turn out to be a great thing for our country. It might not, and that’s what we don’t know.”
Garrison approached the issue from the perspective of accountability. He said there’s about 85-percent overlap between Common Core and the new Alaska Standards. The changes in curriculum, testing, and evaluations will be implemented over the next two years.
“Is the Department of Education using it as a tool or a bat, so to speak, to get us to do what they want us to? I think at times, yes. And that doesn’t feel good. That’s a real concern I have about the Common Core.”
But neither Garrison or Courtright talked about standardized tests as the real measure of student achievement. When they talk about who the district serves and what they consider the measure of success to be, some of the candidate’s differences in opinion disappear, if not their differences in style.
Courtright – Sitka’s a weird little town. I love a weird little town. And weird little towns are really good at standing up against the big guy and saying, You know what? We don’t really care. We’re happy to be different, and we don’t mind being evaluated that way. As long as we know internally that we’re doing what we want to do.
Lon Garrison – I think one of the things you have to do is communicate the success that the district has, and tell our story. So that people understand who we are, what we’re doing, and the good work we’re doing.
The municipal election is Tuesday, October 1. The winning school board candidate will serve a three-year term.
JUNEAU — A man suffered non-life threatening injuries after being mauled by a brown bear in Hoonah.
The 58-year-old man was walking near downtown Hoonah about 9:45 p.m. Wednesday when the bear attacked.
The man, who hasn’t been identified, suffered “bites to his lower body and injuries to his back from the claws,” Hoonah Police Chief Corey Rowley told KTOO.
The proposed 2015 operating budget for the University of Alaska system was revealed at a board of regents meeting in Juneau Thursday. The $933.3 million budget proposal includes $383.7 million from the state; the budget is $30 million less than what the board of regents requested for the 2013-14 academic year.
Congress renews funding important to Sitka, other SE cities. Health care industry an important economic driver in region. Federal official explains health insurance exchanges.
The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Board of Ethics met Thursday to establish the procedure for investigating two complaints filed against Assembly Member Alan Bailey by two of his fellow Assembly members.
Bailey, who is running for re-election, faces two complaints filed by Assembly Members Agnes Moran and Mike Painter. The first complaint claims that Bailey failed to disclose a potential conflict of interest regarding the issue of borough funding for City of Ketchikan dispatch services.
Bailey’s son works as a city dispatcher.
The second complaint claims that Bailey failed to disclose that he was not representing the Assembly when he recently spoke during the public comment portion of a Ketchikan City Council meeting.
The Ethics Board scheduled an investigative hearing for 10 a.m. Oct. 10th, which is more than a week after Tuesday’s election.The hearing will take place in Borough Assembly chambers.
The Ethics Board also identified documents board members wanted to review, and witnesses they would like to question.
The nation’s new health insurance exchanges, or marketplaces, go on-line October first under the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act. Alaska is one of 27 states that chose not to create its own exchange with the help of federal funding. Alaskan’s will be able to access state-specific plans and other information though the federal government’s marketplace website: healthcare.gov
Alaskan’s options on the exchange will reportedly include plans from Primera Blue Cross and Moda Health. However, they will still be able to shop for plans from companies that are not on the exchange as well.
To find out more, Matt Lichtenstein recently spoke with Susan Johnson, Regional Director for the US Department of Health and Human Services:
For mobile-friendly, downloadable audio, click here.
Along with visiting healthcare.gov, there’s also a 24-hour, toll-free number to access the federal marketplace. That’s 1-800-318-2596.
A number of extracurricular-related issues dominated the Ketchikan School Board meeting Wednesday.
So, Board policy isn’t any different today than it was yesterday. But a debate about how the district should handle students with failing grades, but who still want to participate in extracurricular activities resulted in a closer vote than the Board has seen this year.
“There are situations where a kid might need some flexibility because of some things going on in their personal life,” Board Member Stephen Bradford says.
Bradford is speaking about whether or not students who have received an F on their report card should be allowed to participate. He believes that having an across-the-board policy restricting participation would be unfair, especially for those students for whom activities are a positive influence.
Board Member Misty Archibald agrees. Board Member Colleen Scanlon does, too; she presented a number of extreme scenarios wherein a student may fail a class, say, if their house burned down.
Board Member Michelle O’Brien is on the other side of the debate. She says that while she understands and sympathizes with extenuating circumstances, there needs to be a straight rule.
“Our society has moved so rapidly in the direction where it’s a win-win, make everyone feel good no matter how bad they’re doing, I’m not in favor,” O’Brien says. “If they want to play, they need to earn it.”
The option O’Brien supports says that students with any failing grades would be excluded. She also cites the potential for favoritism if there isn’t a hard and fast rule.
Superintendent Boyle agrees, as does new student Board Member Evan Wick. Bradford proposed an amendment to the option supported by O’Brien. That amendment would allow the superintendent to place a one-semester probation on students who do not achieve a 2.0 grade point average. That amendment would offer some reprieve for students in special circumstances.
That amendment passed, 4-4, because Student Board Member Wick’s vote is advisory. The full measure, with the amendment, ultimately failed, 6-2. Archibald and Scanlon voted for the amended legislation.
Kayhi wrestling coach Rick Collins also spoke to the Board during the citizen comment portion of the meeting.
“I don’t want anything to do with Anchorage,” Collins says, “I’d rather go south. They treat us like rock stars down there.”
Collins is talking about problems he encounters coaching a large Southeast high school team. Because the wrestling team is much larger than other schools in the region, it qualifies to compete with bigger schools like Anchorage instead of other ones in Southeast. He says Kayhi doesn’t feel as welcome up north, and even feels better south, in Seattle.
O’Brien and Scanlon said that, while in Anchorage later this year, they will take the issue up with the Alaska School Activities Association.
Superintendent Boyle told the Board that if a face-to-face meeting with Commissioner Mike Hanley of the state Department of Education and Early Development fails to produce results on pending funding for special needs students, he will consult the Board on taking legal action.
Funds from last year for special needs still have not been awarded, which places a strain on finances.
Boyle also says he is making progress on a dispute with the state on reorganizing the Revilla school into a K-12 program. He had hinted at taking the state to court on that issue, as well, though that appears unlikely.
Though the Board meeting was the first for Evan Wick, it was the last for Board President Ginny Clay, who isn’t running for another term. Her thanks to Board Members was emotional.
“I would encourage you to keep the unity that we have,” Clay says. “I’m gonna miss you guys.”
Following the Oct. 1st election, the board will choose new officers.
Proposed tuition increases for the 2014-15 academic year at the University of Alaska were announced Thursday at a Board of Regents meeting in Juneau.
A vote may come on Nov. 6.
The increase, originally proposed by University of Alaska President Pat Gamble, would raise in-state tuition by $6 per credit hour for undergraduate level courses and $12 per credit hour for graduate courses. Non-resident tuition for undergraduate courses would see an $18 increase per credit hour and a $24 increase per credit hour for graduate courses.
A western swing and jazz trio from Austin, Texas is touring Alaska this month and makes a stop in Petersburg tonight thanks to the Petersburg Arts Council. The Hot Club of Cowtown formed in 1997 and put out their first CD in 1998. They’ve since recorded 11 more. The latest, Rendezvous in Rhythm, was released in May. Listeners might have also heard them perform on Mountain Stage, Etown, World Cafe, A Prairie Home Companion and other public radio shows.
For a preview, Joe Viechnicki spoke on the phone with guitar player and singer Whit Smith.
For iFriendly audio, click here:
The Hot Club of Cowtown performs tonight at 7 at the Wright Auditorium. Tickets are on sale at Lees Clothing and at the door.
A committee of local residents and business owners is taking another look at Petersburg’s ordinance on sales tax – and may be recommending changes including the elimination of tax exemptions for voters to consider next year. Joe Viechnicki reports.
For iFriendly audio, click here:
Every few years, local voters have been deciding ballot questions on local sales tax law, exemptions from sales tax, increases to the rate or tax free days. Some of the proposed changes have come from a committee of elected leaders and business owners. That committee reformed this year and may generate more ballot questions for 2014, since there’s no local election this October.
Committee member Sue Flint, who’s also on the borough assembly, read a mission statement she helped write for the latest committee. “This is what we came up with,” Flint read, “To review the sales tax code, to simplify the code and collection procedures and to generate an equal or greater amount of revenue so the borough does not have to decrease services or increase property taxes.”
The municipality has collected about two point eight million dollars in sales tax the past two years. That number dropped closer to two point six million for the two years before that during the global economic recession.
As part of its review, the committee will be looking at the borough’s long list of exemptions from sales tax. Member Fran Jones thought the committee should look at each exemption one at a time. “There are some that we can’t do anything about, like air charters, WIC, food stamps, medical services, those are already tax exempted by law but the other ones like sales out of the ordinary course of business, rental receipts, there’s a bunch in there that can really be looked at.”
Sales tax is not collected for things like insurance, funeral goods, utilities, items that are bought for resale and goods to be used outside the borough to name a few. It’s also not collected for people over the age of 65 and that looks to be a growing percentage of the local population over the next few decades. Many of the exemptions, including the senior exemption, have been supported by local voters. And ultimately it will be up to voters again which exemptions stay and which go. A year ago, voters said no to an increase in the sales tax cap by a narrow margin. In 2011, voters decided to end the exemption for seniors and non profit organizations purchasing alcohol and tobacco and approved the possibility of up to two tax free days a year.
The committee plans to meet once a month through the winter and hopes to have recommendations to the borough assembly by March. That could mean more ballot questions on sales tax a year from now.
Ralph Beardsworth of the Ketchikan School Board gives an update on Wednesday’s meeting, including discussions about activities. SB092613
This candidate statement is a listener service of Raven Radio. It is not an endorsement of the candidate. All candidates for municipal office have been offered the same opportunity to broadcast and publish a statement.
Hello, my name is Lon Garrison and I am running for the Sitka School Board. I was first elected to the board in 2007 and then again in 2010, this will be my third time running for the board.
I believe this is a critically important election. The Sitka school board and public education as a whole are facing unprecedented challenges and potential changes. We face the selection of a new superintendent for the first time in 13 years, this is a huge responsibility that will have major ramifications on how our school district and our students advance and achieve in the future. I believe it is critically important to have a knowledgeable, objective board member with leadership experience to help guide the board through this process. I believe I am the right person for this task.
The district faces an unprecedented amount of work to adopt the new state standards, implement curriculum and instruction to align to those standards, implement new online standards testing and finally to implement a new teacher evaluation process; all by 2015! It is a very tall order! In order to do that we will need both an excellent administration and a school board prepared to take the time to do the work needed to make this happen. In my view, this will take experience, leadership, and the full commitment of every board member.
In my six years on the board I have tried to take advantage of every occasion to educate and train myself to be the best board member I can be. I have had the opportunity to be involved state-wide as a member of the Association of Alaska school boards board of directors, nationally as a member of several committees with the National School Boards Association and as a board member of the National Forest Counties & Schools Coalition. All of these opportunities have allowed me to work on my leadership skills and to bring back ideas and perspectives that I believe improve our board and our district. I know these are the skills that will matter most as we move forward to address the challenges I just spoke of.
The other looming challenge of public education and local school districts is at the state and federal government level. At no time in our history have state and federal governments wanted to wield their authority and power more than today. They seek to reduce or eliminate local control of education, to impose a “one size fits all” solution. Over the past six years as a School Board member, I have developed my skills in advocating for public education. I have spent many, many hours working to educate and advance our cause with state legislators each session. Most l have a limited knowledge of what it takes to run a school district, to educate kids, to provide for that basic human right; an opportunity for a free and high quality education no matter who you are or where you come from. I believe the relationships I have developed and the recognition I have with the legislature as a leader in education will serve both Sitka and our state well. Furthermore, I know the commitment and the amount of work it will take and I am ready, willing and able to do it!
Now is not the time to bring a new face to the board. There is too much at stake. It is critically important to have a board that has the capacity to objectively contemplate all of the hard decisions we have to make. We need now, more than ever a board member who has the school board experience, the leadership skills and the broad perspective of what education has been and could be for Sitka. I ask for your support and your vote to re-elect me to the Sitka School Board on October 1, 2013.
The municipal election in Sitka is Tuesday, October 1, 2013.
New state regulations defining what constitutes a prescription drug for naturopathic doctors were announced Tuesday by the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. The Alaska State Medical Association, which advocates on behalf of licensed medical doctors, supports the new regulations. One naturopathic doctor says the new regulations may put many naturopaths in the state out of business.
Two cruise lines partnered recently to donate $1 million to the University of Alaska system. The money, to be gifted to the schools over a three-year period, comes from Princess Cruise Lines, Ltd. and Holland America Line Inc.
The donation will be distributed to different programs across the three UA campuses. UAS Director of Development Lynne Johnson said University of Alaska-Southeast will use the $85,000 it will receive to fund scholarships for students in its science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs, known increasingly as STEM.
Sitka electric rates to increase 10 percent. BIHA gets green light to double quarry size. Alaska a national leader in healthy births.
For those listeners who missed Monday’s call-in forum with candidates for the Ketchikan Gateway Borough School Board, here is a recording of the hour-long show.
Ketchikan’s governments all have to work together to some degree, and while officials from each appear to have the best interest of the community in mind, there are conflicts at times.
The Ketchikan Gateway Borough is a fulcrum of sorts, with direct connections to the City of Ketchikan, City of Saxman, and the Ketchikan School Board, as well as the state. Borough Assembly candidates Alan Bailey, Bill Rotecki and John Harrington addressed some of those relationships, with school funding as a top focus.
Each spoke in strong support of schools and doing whatever is possible, but add that there is a limit to local funding. That limit is the annual point of debate between the Assembly and School Board.
Incumbent Assembly Member Rotecki said, “I don’t relish the conflict, and I think some of the conflict can be reduced considerably. I think it begins with more conversations that ultimately end in more trust. As far as eliminating the conflict, I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
Harrington, a former Assembly and School Board member, agreed that the conflict will remain, at least until the state is convinced to fully fund education. The borough has been pushing for some movement on that issue, but there hasn’t been much positive response from lawmakers.
Incumbent candidate Bailey, who used to run Ketchikan Correctional Center, said he has a unique take on the value of education, and the cost to society and individuals when some are not able to complete their education. He added that the perceived conflict between the two bodies is merely the result of everyone doing their job.
“The School Board is responsible to advocate for the best budget they can,” he said. “That’s what they should be doing, and they do so strongly, and they do so with passion.”
That passion also was the reason given for some of the recent debate between the borough and city governments. However, Rotecki said those disagreements don’t really serve the public interest. He spoke in favor of unifying the borough and city, but said those who make the next attempt should investigate past failures in hopes of improving its chances of success.
Local voters have repeatedly rejected measures to combine the two governments, most recently in 2006. Harrington was a strong advocate of consolidating the borough and city, and said he still supports the concept.
“Consolidation; obviously that was a major passion of mine for a couple of years, and it was one of those regrets of my past political involvement that it fell flat on its face,” he said. “I thought we had a pretty good product, and I thought we did a pretty good job. It would have solved a lot of these problems.”
Bailey noted that the city and borough have been able to work together on some issues, such as harbor improvements and funding for the Whitman Lake hydroelectric project.
Library funding is the current topic under debate between the city and borough. All three candidates strongly praised the library and said they favor continuing the current level of borough funding for the city-run library. However, whether the borough should help pay for the bond debt related to the new library’s construction costs was more of a question.
Harrington suggested that the city should have had that conversation with borough officials before the bonds were issued.
The candidates ended the evening by encouraging local residents to participate in local government by voting on Election Day.
The entire Assembly candidate forum is posted under Local News. The election is coming up on Tuesday.
Bartlett Regional Hospital CEO Christine Harff handed in her resignation during an executive session with the hospital’s Board of Directors Tuesday evening, the hospital announced Wednesday.
The resignation is expected to be effective Oct. 18. Her stint as CEO ends just over a year after it began. Harff’s first day on the job was Aug. 15, 2012.
Board of Directors President Linda Thomas said in a press release that “Juneau’s community hospital was not a good fit for Ms. Harff.”
The release went on to say an interim CEO is expected to be named within a month.
There will be no commercial fishing for red and blue king crab in Southeast again this year. The stocks are still in poor shape according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game which announced the closure last week. Matt Lichtenstein reports:
For mobile-friendly, downloadable audio click here.
Fish and Game assesses the red crab stocks each year. That involves the results of an annual on-the-grounds survey, past commercial harvest data, and for the past few years, the results of a cooperative research project involving fishermen and the department. According to the Department, the Southeast Red King Crab stock has been in decline since 2001 and is at its lowest level in 23 years.
“Stock health ratings of poor in the majority of the survey areas and well-below average ratings in the others offered no harvestable surplus towards the minimum threshold in regulation so the department recommended that there not be a commercial fishery this season,” says Joe Stratman, Fish and Game’s Lead Crab Biologist for the region.
The department estimates the total amount of mature crab in Southeast at 910 thousand pounds. 740 thousand pounds of those crabs are legal size, which means they would be big enough to keep in a commercial fishery. Stratman says it’s not a significant decrease from last season, which was also closed.
“There weren’t huge changes in the biomass from last year for both legal and mature. So, I guess we would call the stocks below average but stable. Things didn’t seem to get a lot worse from last year,” says Stratman.
According to Stratman, the department is not seeing the recruitment of newly-legal-sized crab into the fishery on an annual basis.
When it’s open, the November red crab season provides an important economic boost for permit-holders and their crew as well as processors and support businesses. Last time there was a season in 2011, 54 permit-holders landed 176 thousand pounds. At more than ten dollars a pound, the crab was worth 1.87 million dollars at the docks.
“I wish there was more crab in the water but I think we all realize its somewhat depressed right now for some reason other than the commercial fishery,” says John Barry, a red-crab fishermen and co-chair of the Southeast Alaska King and Tanner Crab Task force. That’s a group of industry representatives and state officials who work on research and management issues.
In the future, Barry says the fleet would like to see the 200 thousand pound threshold lowered or done away with entirely, “Because, when there’s not a fishery, it’s not only an economic loss but it’s also an important loss of data for the predictive results of the model. Even if there’s 100 thousand pounds instead of the 200 thousand pound threshold, it’s still a million dollars of economic value and we have the data every year”
In the past, the industry has argued that department red crab estimates were too low. Fleet input led to changes to the annual department survey along with an on-going, collaborative effort to gauge crab numbers with the help of commercial fishermen and a new survey method. The study, which started in 2009, involves catching, marking, and recapturing crab. The work resulted in an adjustment that led to an open fishery in 2011. But even with the adjustment this year and the last, the estimated biomass was too low for another opening.
Still, Barry thanks the department for working with the fleet on the project.
“It’s done a lot to ease a lot of the strife between management and the fishermen. We’re all somewhat on the same page now. It’s pretty cool,” Barry says.
The department plans to continue the mark-recapture study this year.
Meanwhile, the department also announced that some areas will be newly-closed for personal use red and blue crab fishing at the end of the month. That includes Pybus bay and Gambier bay off Admiralty Island and Holkum bay off the mainland.