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Southeast Alaska News
ANCHORAGE — A man who recently was mauled by a grizzly bear near northern Alaska’s remote Brooks Range said he recognized the animal that left him with broken teeth and a deep gash in his arm from his guide trips.
Jim Tuttle said he and the hunters he guided often spotted the bear, nicknamed Buddy. But the animal was never aggressive toward them until two weeks ago, when Tuttle was walking along a creek and saw it charging.
PORTLAND, Ore. — Authorities in Oregon say text messages found hours before the discovery of a missing college student’s body on a heavily-wooded hill were the first indication he planned to kill himself.
Johnathan Croom was found just 1,000 yards from the vehicle he abandoned near Riddle, Ore.
Douglas County sheriff’s spokesman Dwes Hutson said crews searching the area for days after Croom’s green SUV was found were looking for a live person. They called his name and made lots of noise, as they had since last week, but heard nothing back.
80 million pink salmon and counting – Southeast Alaska’s fishing fleets have set a new record for pinks this summer and are not far from passing the region’s record for all five species of salmon.
As of this week, preliminary estimates compiled by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on it’s website put the Southeast pink catch at just over 80 million, topping the previous record of 77 point 8 million landed in 1999. The total for all five species that year was just under 98 million, and that’s still the record, but maybe not for long. Gillnetters, seiners and trollers have topped 93 million salmon this summer in Southeast and the season’s not over yet.
Fish and Game’s preseason forecast for the region was for 54 million pinks. Last year’s catch was just over 21 million.
And as for statewide numbers, the pink salmon catch statewide has topped 203 million; the total for all five species is over 253 million.
Here’s the daily rundown beginning Tuesday, September 3, 2013:
Morning Edition, 6-8:30 AM
Local Hosts: Peter Apathy, Robert Woolsey, Emily Reilly, Melissa Marconi-Wentzel.
5:59 – Sign on, local weather
6:00 – NPR Headline News
6:04 – Local Headlines, Marine Weather, Things Happening
6:10 – NPR Morning Edition
6:19 – Sitka Weather, Things Happening
6:21 – NPR Morning Edition
6:34 – Local News I
6:40 – NPR Morning Edition
6:49 – Things Happening
6:51 – Marketplace Morning Report or Local News Feature
6:59 – Local weather, Station ID
7:00 – NPR Headline News
7:04 – Local Headlines
7:06 – Alaska Morning News
7:10 – NPR Morning Edition
7:19 – Sitka Weather, Lunch Menus, Things Happening
7:21 – NPR Morning Edition
7:34 – Local News II
7:40 – NPR Morning Edition
7:49 – Things Happening
7:51 – NPR Morning Edition or Regional News Feature
7:59 – Local weather, Station ID, What’s coming up on the Good Day Radio Show
8:01 – NPR Headlines
8:04 – Local Headlines
8:06 – Alaska Morning News
8:10 – Marketplace Tech Report
8:18 – The Morning Interview
8:25 – The Writers’ Almanac
The Good Day Radio Show, 8:30-9:30 AM
Local Hosts: Amy Gorn, Taylor White, Jessica Gibson, Grace Brooks, Lily Herwald and others.
8:30 – Good Morning
8:31 – Music
8:39 – Birdnote
8:41 – Music
8:49 – Things Happening
8:51 – Music
9:00 – Local weather, Station ID
9:01 – BBC Headlines
9:04 – Local News Roundup with KCAW News Staff
9:06 – SoundBeat
9:08 – Music
9:12 – Good Day Radio Show Interview
9:19 – Pulse of the Planet
9:21 – Music
9:30 – 1-hour music/entertainment feature (Except Tuesdays: NPR’s All Songs Considered, followed by APRN’s Talk of Alaska at 10 AM.)
Members of Petersburg’s Borough Assembly are telling the board of the Petersburg Medical Center to be transparent about the facility’s financial status before seeking public financial support for equipment and renovations. The two elected groups continued their discussion about medical center finances last week.
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Petersburg Medical Center is a non-for-profit organization owned by the borough and run by an elected board of seven local residents. That board has approached borough officials about public support to pay for capital costs, that is, new construction, renovations and major equipment.
Borough assembly member John Hoag told the board Thursday that local voters will need more information on day to day operations of the facility. “I would suggest that before you say to the voters alright even though we’ve got some reserves we’ve built up over time, we need your help for big capital projects, they’re still gonna say show me that what you’re doing for expenditures is in line,” he said. Hoag suggested the board be able to show that hospital salaries and benefits are on par with other hospitals in Southeast Alaska.
For years the medical center has operated at arms length from the local municipality without requesting funding. That could be changing this year. The new borough government is reviewing and revising its ordinances. A proposed version of the new hospital ordinance requires annual medical center budgets and audits be presented to the borough. It also requires the medical center to start following state open records law, public bidding procedures and notify the assembly of a contract with the facility’s administrator. All that’s not yet set in stone, it will have to be approved by the borough assembly.
Last month the borough told the medical center to repay a line of credit it took out to pay for capital costs and an operating shortfall.
For the meantime, the two sides are focusing on how to fund those major capital costs in the future. Board member Kris Kissinger thought people would accept spending for new capital project items. “And I think I have confidence in the city or whatever if they go and add something or need something new that I’ll look at that and OK, they need that. I have confidence in the council and the board,” Kissinger said.
Hoag responded, “The feedback that I think (borough manager) Steve (Giesbrecht) has received and a lot of us has received, the public has a healthy skepticism on the now-borough’s spending habits.”
Board and staff from the medical center outlined the facility’s financial status for assembly members. PMC CEO Liz Woodyard noted the facility has a higher amount of bad debt and charity care than ever before. That’s potential revenue that has to be written off as a loss. “It’s about 8-10 percent is bad debt and charity care,” Woodyard said. “And that also supports our community. And then we have people you know that have large bills, 50-thousand dollar bills, that don’t pay.” Woodyard said another big question mark is future state and federal reimbursement levels for Medicare and Medicaid services.
Assembly member Sue Flint thought the medical center should focus on accounts receivable, known as AR, or the money owed to the hospital. “To me the answer is in your AR. I’m hoping the people that are working are training your employees so that you can get that down. Because like you say in a year it increased a million and a half. What could you do with a million and a half today? That would solve so many problems.”
Board president Tom Abbott agreed. “If we are collecting the billing, we don’t have a problem,” Abbott said. Outstanding money owed to the medical center has reached as high as three point 75 million dollars and the medical center is trying to collect money and reduce that amount.
CEO Woodyard brought the focus back to major expenses for the building. “I do believe it with my whole heart we can make it on operations. And I believe too our salaries are right in line. I have no problems with that. But it’s an old building and things fall apart and you get a new roof and you find out you have to have insect screens.”
PMC is currently replacing part of its roof. State grant funding has paid for $275,000 dollars of that cost. However, the medical center board last week approved spending just over $76,000 dollars for the project.
The biggest cost on the horizon is a new medical information system already being installed this year. It could cost PMC 700-thousand dollars but the medical center is hoping for state funding to offset that amount. Other big price tag items in the future could be new beds, medical imaging equipment and a remodeling of the long term care wing among other projects.
The two elected groups plan to have another work session in early December to continue their discussion.
As reported earlier, Sitka’s interim municipal administrator was added last night to the list of finalists to hold the job permanently.
Jay Sweeney joins the list without having gone through the same process as the other four finalists: Pam Caskie, Mark Gorman, Cynna Gubatayo and Jim Pascale.
Raven News managed to reach all seven Assembly members today. Specifically, we asked them to give their thoughts on whether they had concerns about the fairness of the process, given the late addition to the list.
Assembly member Thor Christianson said for him, the bottom line is finding the best administrator possible.
“And we’re not on a playground. It may not be fair,” he said. “But we want the best administrator. Jay has had a three-month long interview in my mind. He has been in this job, we’ve seen him, he’s a known quantity. We’ve done a lot more talking to him than we have any of the other candidates.”
Sweeney has been city finance director since 2011 and has been acting as interim administrator since Jim Dinley’s resignation in April. He did not apply to have the position full-time.
Pete Esquiro also said he didn’t have concerns about the process, and emphasized that nothing has been decided. It was good for the Assembly to expand its “resource base,” he said. Matt Hunter shared those feelings, saying the Assembly doesn’t know where the process will end up.
Mayor Mim McConnell also emphasized that the hiring process has yet to be determined, at least when it comes to Sweeney. Assembly members could not discuss him in executive session last night, apart from asking whether he was interested in the job. McConnell said determining what steps to take to vet Sweeney as a candidate will come tonight, in open session.
Phyllis Hackett, on the other hand, said she felt the late addition of another finalist was not fair to the process the Assembly adopted. She didn’t want to go on tape, but said she anticipates the hire will be done tonight.
Michelle Putz struck a balance. She said she’s unclear on how to proceed, but that it was perfectly reasonable for the Assembly to add Sweeney’s name to the list.
“Do I know what is the right way to do it past here, if we are interested in hiring him? I don’t know what the right way is,” Putz said. “I think we’ll have to discuss that tonight.”
Mike Reif said he has a lot of questions, but that it would be premature to share his thoughts on the process publicly.
Since we’ve shared background info on the other candidates, here’s what we can tell you about Sweeney: He holds a bachelor’s degree in forest products from the University of Idaho, and a master’s of business administration from Indiana University, with majors in accounting, and management and information systems. He spent about 12 years on active duty as a finance officer in the U.S. Army, retiring with the rank of major.
His work history includes three years as Sitka’s finance director in the 1990s, followed by the same job in Kenai. He’s also held senior financial positions at Allen Marine, Sheldon Jackson College, Samson Tug and Barge, as well as some firms in the Cincinnati area.
He told KCAW on Tuesday afternoon that he’s happy to be included, but is also uneasy with not having gone through the same process as the other four finalists.
Exactly what will come from the Assembly’s upcoming discussion is unclear, but it wouldn’t be out of the question for the job to be offered to someone tonight. That conversation will take place behind closed doors, with a vote afterward in public.
KCAW News will stay at Centennial Hall after our live coverage of the Assembly’s regular meeting concludes. We’ll have details on the outcome of tonight’s discussion during tomorrow’s newscasts, and here on KCAW.org as soon as the story is ready.
Alaska Power and Telephone, through its subsidiary, Soule Hydro, is planning a multi-million-dollar hydroelectric project on the Tongass National Forest that would pump almost 80 megawatts of power into the Canadian and Lower 48 electric grid.
The company has filed for a Presidential Permit that would allow its planned underwater transmission cable to cross international borders, but some are not on board with the proposal.
Alaska Power and Telephone has been working on the Soule River dam project for quite some time. It kicked off the federal licensing process in 2005, and has continued efforts over the last eight years to make the 77.4-megawatt project happen.
Just for perspective, the total hydroelectric capacity for all of Ketchikan, which involves multiple dams, is about 34 megawatts, so roughly half the proposed Soule output.
A NEW EXPORT INDUSTRY
Jason Custer of AP&T said that one of the region’s most abundant renewable resources has the potential to become an important industry for Southeast.
“We’re trying to create a new energy export industry for Southeast, which is similar to oil and gas in more northern parts of the state,” he said. “The key different is this is renewable energy, and while we have a finite supply of oil and gas, the rain keeps coming every year. So this is an energy export project that we could have forever.”
LAND USE DESIGNATION HURDLE
Soule River is in Portland Canal just outside of the Misty Fiords National Monument. Locally, the area is called Glacier Bay, and while it’s not technically wilderness, its LUD, or Land Use Designation, under the Tongass Land Management Plan is remote recreation.
Two years ago, the U.S. Forest Service submitted comments about the project, stating that, as proposed, the Soule River dam would have “significant irreversible and irretrievable effects to the environment.” The comments recommended a full Environmental Impact Statement.
In addition, a 2011 letter from Tongass National Forest Supervisor Forrest Cole to AP&T’s Robert Grimm states that the Forest Service had no plans at that time to amend TLMP. Cole writes that AP&T shoulD “consider an alternative that is smaller in scale and effects, and that would be consistent with the remote recreation LUD direction.”
Cole’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Custer said it’s challenging to develop new hydro projects in Southeast because TLMP doesn’t include a LUD for renewable energy. AP&T and other groups have asked that the forest plan be updated to reflect that potential use.
A regional environmental group is directly opposed to the project, partly because the Soule River is a remote recreation site, and partly because the power will go Outside.
“I believe we should be focusing our energy on developing energy for our communities, and not focused on developing energy for mines being developed in (British Columbia),” said Lindsey Ketchel, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.
She said SEACC supports hydroelectric projects and other renewable energy proposals in general, just not this one.
“Our preference is that you work with communities like Kake and Hoonah and others where they’re paying 63 cents per kilowatt. Those individuals, those communities desperately need a fair rate,” she said.
There is the environmental impact to consider, too. While not against the project, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game identified some potential hurdles. During that same comment period a couple years ago, Monte Miller, the state hydropower coordinator for Fish and Game, wrote that salmon and Dolly Varden, a type of trout, could be affected by the project. The comments included recommendations for mitigation if the project moves forward. Miller confirmed via recent email that there has been no change, and the comments stand.
PUBLIC’S BEST INTEREST
Custer admits there would be some impact, especially during construction. He said that through the FERC licensing project, the government will consider the pros and cons. He contends that the environmental costs of not building the dam are high, and the project is in the public’s best interest.
The calculated carbon cost of an energy project is one of the factors considered by FERC, and Custer gave some numbers for the dam’s cost versus a natural gas plant with similar power output over about 50 years.
“Soule is going to save $609 million in social costs of carbon costs compared to a natural gas plant of the same size and with the same life span,” he said. “If we were able to develop Soule as an alternative to a coal-fired plant, we’re looking at $1.3 billion of social costs of carbon savings.”
AP&T’s proposal calls for a high-voltage, alternating-current transmission line that would originate at the Soule River, and continue to a substation in Stewart, British Columbia.
The Alaska portion of the project includes eight miles of cable that would be placed on the sea floor before crossing the border near Hyder. The cable then would continue under Canadian water for about two miles before landing at Stewart’s Arrow Dock. The overhead portion would travel about 2-and-a-half miles to the substation. The project needs to clear the Canadian permit process in addition to FERC’s.
POTENTIAL REGIONAL ECONOMIC BENEFIT
Custer touts the potential economic benefits for southern Southeast Alaska. The project will cost an approximately $330 million just to build.
“Going over to the operational period, there’s also going to be significant expenditures in Alaska to operate and maintain this project,” he said. “Those expenditures are going to resonate regionally.”
And locally: “Ketchikan, being the hub community for southern Southeast, and being the closest community of significant size to Hyder and the location of this project, stands to benefit significantly in terms of expenditures during construction and maintenance and operation of the project.”
Once built, hydroelectric projects also are inexpensive to operate. They are low maintenance, and don’t rely on fluctuating costs of, for example, coal.
If the presidential permit is approved, that doesn’t mean the project is good to go. It still needs the FERC license, which will require more studies, including various environmental assessments.
Comments on the presidential permit application will be accepted through Thursday, Aug. 29. Send comments to Brian Mills, Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE–20), U.S. Department of Energy, 1000 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20585. His email is Brian.Mills@hq.doe.gov
The Ketchikan Gateway Borough School Board will hold its final session of summer break Wednesday.
The Board is inviting the public to a hearing about how gifts to the school district are reported. The issue has been a topic of debate throughout the summer – Business Manager Matt Groves initially raised the issue to clarify the policy, as it was unclear whether every donation must come before the School Board and therefor the public.
Some board members opposed the idea of reporting all gifts in public. Some, including Board Member Michelle O’Brien, have said that reporting smaller gifts may put some donors under an unfair spotlight. Increased scrutiny, those board members have said, may discourage future donations to the school district.
The board – and the public – will take a look at the clarified text of the rule. That rule says that, moving forward, cash donations of less than $10,000 do not have to be reported. Accepting other gifts such as services, items or donations related to fundraising are at the discretion of the superintendent. Only cash above the $10,000 mark must come before the School Board for approval. In keeping with the original wording of the rule, a gift may be used at a particular school at the designee or superintendent’s discretion.
The School Board will also vote on Tatsuda Supermarket’s bid to provide milk for the year to the school district. The store offered a bid of 54 cents per half-pint.
A grant from the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development Child Nutrition Program is also under consideration by the board. Members will decide whether to approve more than $70,000 in fresh fruits and vegetables for the district’s elementary schools.
The Board meets at 6pm in Borough Assembly Chambers. Public comment will be heard at the start and end of the meeting.
Alaska State Troopers are investigating an apparent suicide on Prince of Wales Island. Troopers discovered the body of a man outside of a truck near Hydaburg Road and One Duck Trailhead after responding to a call around 7 a.m. Tuesday.
A spokesperson for the troopers told KRBD that while next of kin has been identified, those family members have not yet been contacted.
The state medical examiner in Anchorage will conduct an autopsy of the body to determine whether the death was a suicide.
Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell is not among them, although he is scheduled to join the group in Juneau on Wednesday.
The high-level visit is part of a review process that takes place once every seven years or so in the Alaska region of the US Forest Service.
Listen to iFriendly audio.
Wendy Zirngibl is a public affairs specialist with the regional office in Juneau.
She says having the boss drop in is not such a bad thing.
“We’ve been working on this for quite a few months, and I don’t know anyone who’s dreading it. We’re really looking forward to having the chief’s ear, and the ear of his leadership team to talk to them about the things that matter most to us.”
Those things that matter most fall into four areas: Sustainable Recreation and Wildernesss; Restoration and Young Growth Management; Social Relevance and Economic Development; and Workforce, Talent Management, and Budget.
Zirngibl says the four areas were chosen by regional staff. During Chief Tidwell’s visit to Juneau on Wednesday, representatives of area communities and organizations will participate in a couple of panel discussions, but otherwise the process is strictly an internal administrative review with no public input.
Zirngibl describes it as a way for agency staffers to reconnect with headquarters.
“Being in the Alaska Region we’re in the position of being remote, and we sometimes feel removed from the rest of the lower 48. So we really embrace this opportunity.”
In all, six members of the Forest Service’s executive management team were in Sitka, including the associate chief of the Forest Service Mary Wagner, and Leslie Weldon, the deputy chief of the National Forest Service System.
On Monday, they visited the Starrigavan Valley, where several forest and watershed restoration projects are in progress. The campground also has a popular cabin built from second-growth logs.
A call made to the Sitka District office was not returned by deadline for this story. Zirngibl says it’s likely staff were entertaining their Washington visitors at a potluck.
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Bob Love is the outreach specialist for health care; Owen Kindig is the communication media specialist. Fall classes begin September 3, in Art, Math, Government, Psychology and many more. Both on-campus and distance teaching is offered. For more information visit UAS online.
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Following executive session, assembly adds interim administrator Jay Sweeney to finalist’s list. Write-in candidate files for assembly seat; now a three-way race. USFS executive management team — but not the chief — drops in on Sitka. Coast Guard medevacks fishing boat crew member with abdominal pains.
Listen to iFriendly audio.
Assembly could decide tonight on choice for new municipal administrator. State enforces new rules for onboard shopping guides on cruise ships. Galena working on alternate local housing plan during delays in flood repairs.
City of Ketchikan Fire Chief Frank Share provides information about the Community Emergency Response Team – a group of volunteer citizens trained in disaster preparedness. Members are needed and training coming up. EmergGroups
ANCHORAGE — A federal grand jury has indicted two former executives for embezzling from the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council, which advocates for tribal governments in Alaska.
The grand jury returned the indictment Friday in U.S. District Court in Anchorage against Steven D. Osborne and Thomas R. Purcell. The two are accused of stealing nearly $236,000 from the nonprofit agency, the Anchorage Daily News reported Monday.
ANCHORAGE — A commercial pilot was at the controls of a single-engine airplane that crashed Saturday at Anchorage’s Merrill Field, killing him and his girlfriend.
Robert Lilly, 31, of Big Lake and Jessi Nelsen, 27, of Seward and Anchorage, died in the crash, Anchorage police said.
PORTLAND, Ore. — The body of an Arizona teenager missing since last week was found Monday evening near the spot where his SUV was abandoned in a wooded area, a southern Oregon sheriff’s office said.
The body of 18-year-old Johnathan Croom was discovered about 1,000 feet from his vehicle, Douglas County sheriff’s spokesman Dwes Hutson said in a statement. The death was being investigated as a suicide.
Hutson didn’t immediately return a call for additional comment.
Sitka’s interim municipal administrator is now on the list of candidates to hold the city’s top job permanently.
The Sitka Assembly was expected to offer the job last night to one of the four finalists they interviewed late last week. Instead, they added Jay Sweeney’s name to the list and put off further conversation until Tuesday night.
The Assembly walked into a closed meeting at 6:10 p.m. Monday, along with Sweeney and Municipal Attorney Robin Koutchak. So far, nothing out of the ordinary. About 90 minutes later, Sweeney and Koutchak were excused from the executive session. Again, not that unusual.
The plot twist came about 15 minutes later, when the seven Assembly members walked back into the public meeting room and took their seats at the table.
Mayor Mim McConnell read a statement: “The Assembly has strong opinions on all the candidates, and after a lengthy discussion, Jay Sweeney’s name was mentioned, at which time he was excused from the room. The Assembly will take this up again tomorrow after the regular Assembly meeting, adding Jay Sweeney to the list of candidates.”
Sweeney has been city finance director since 2011, and has been interim administrator since Jim Dinley’s resignation this past April. He did not apply for the permanent administrator job.
In an interview after Monday night’s special meeting, McConnell said the Assembly did not discuss Sweeney at length in the executive session, apart from asking him whether he’d be interested in being considered.
“Well, we needed to know whether it was even worth talking about or not,” McConnell said. “So, ‘Jay, are you interested?’ and when he said yeah, he probably would be, it was like, ‘OK, out (of the discussion).’ So we had to stop talking about it at that point, but we didn’t know whether he was (interested) or not. So we had to get that clear.”
The parameters of what the Assembly can discuss behind closed doors are narrow. In this case, they were limited to the four finalists who interviewed on Thursday and Friday: Pam Caskie, Mark Gorman, Cynna Gubatayo and Jim Pascale. To discuss Sweeney at length, they need to make another motion and include his name. That’s expected to happen at the end of Tuesday’s regular meeting.
“We had spent quite a lot of time — a pretty exhaustive discussion about the four candidates,” McConnell said. “One of the Assembly members mentioned Jay’s interest in the past, as being a possibility. We felt it was time to stop the dialogue and before we go any further, do this legally and get his name added in there, and continue the discussion.”
Sweeney said he was surprised his name was brought up in executive session. When he signed on as interim administrator, he says it was simply out of a desire to help the city get through the transition.
“But I felt over the last five months that I’ve very much enjoyed the job, and felt I’ve done a reasonable job at it,” he said. “At least in my perspective. Others may believe differently. … If at this point in time the Assembly feels that my leadership style and my management style is right for Sitka, then I would be honored and flattered to be given an opportunity to be considered for the role.”
Of the other candidates who have applied, 53 submitted resumes and other material to the Assembly. Ten of them went through a video interview in public. Four of them went through an in-person interview in public.
Will Sweeney go through the same process?
“I don’t know yet,” McConnell said. “We didn’t talk about it, because his name was not given as the subject for the executive session, so we couldn’t iron out all that kind of stuff.”
McConnell says if the Assembly needs more time to reach a decision, it will take it. Sweeney says he’s happy to go through any process the Assembly wishes.
What’s next could be more discussion, or it could be a job offer for one of the now five finalists. The Assembly is expected to resume its conversation at the end of Tuesday’s regular meeting, most likely in executive session.
This story has been corrected to reflect the fact that the sale is not scheduled to be finalized, but rather advanced, at Tuesday’s meeting.
A relatively light agenda awaits the Sitka Assembly at its regular meeting Tuesday, but that doesn’t mean it’s minor. Among the five items on the agenda is the sale of some Benchlands property to a local developer.
The city plans to sell four parcels along Kramer Avenue to Sound Development LLC. The parcels would each be sold for more than $344,000.
This latest vote comes after a long debate on the issue at the Assembly’s Aug. 13 meeting. The Tuesday vote is on first reading, which means the measure will have another hearing before becoming official.
The meeting begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday inside Harrigan Centennial Hall. Raven Radio will provide live coverage.
The Tlingit-Haida Central Council’s Head Start program serves more than 250 Southeast Alaska preschoolers. But they’ll have less time in the classroom this year due to budget cuts tied to sequestration. We took a this look at the program and the impacts of lower funding.
Savann Guthrie, her husband Alex and their three kids have all been part of Petersburg’s Head Start program, run by Tlingit-Haida Central Council, for years.
“My first little girl craved socialization. We couldn’t give her enough of it and so for her I thought it would be a real good place to get to socialize,” she says.
Guthrie started taking her daughter just two days a week. Soon, both of them, and later, the other Guthrie kids, became regulars.
“You were encouraged to come in and sit down and hang out if you wanted to all day, encouraged to come to lunch, and bring your other younger kids, and sit and have lunch and socialize and hang out. So I really liked that aspect,” Guthrie says.
Family contact is a key part of Head Start, a federal preschool education and screening program that began in the mid-‘60s. Along with working with kids, it helps parents learn more about caring for young children, and preparing them for school.
But there will be less of that this year.
Sequestration’s across-the-board, 5.3 percent cut means Tlingit-Haida’s Head Start programs will begin three weeks late.
That affects about 260 children at 15 centers in nine cities: Angoon, Craig, Klawock, Saxman, Hoonah, Petersburg, Wrangell, Juneau and Sitka.
Haines, Kake, Hydaburg and Ketchikan also have Head Start classrooms. They’re run by the Anchorage-based Rural Alaska Community Action Program. Officials could not be reached by our deadline for comment on how they’re handling the budget cuts.
Former Tlingit-Haida Head Start teacher Karen McCullough of Petersburg supervises the council’s program in southern Southeast.
“All the research has shown that socializing children, getting them used to routines, getting them used to playing with other children, and relating with other adults … increases their language base, (which) really helps children when they enter into the public school system,” McCullough says.
Head Start also provides preschoolers with breakfast and lunch, and teaches them basic hygiene, such as brushing their teeth.
Some don’t get that at home.
Tlingit-Haida Regional Program Director Albert Rinehart says staffers are also trained to spot physical or behavioral problems best addressed at an early age.
“We help identify any potential issues that might hold them up later on with their schooling – hearing tests, eye tests and other, more severe types of disabilities,” Rinehart says.
The budget cuts will reduce classroom days by close to 10 percent. It will also lower hours – and pay – for Tlingit-Haida 55 staffers.
Tlingit-Haida Head Start usually begins classes in early September, about the same time older children head to school. McCullough says the three-week delay could force some parents to choose another place.
“There are also other preschool programs and parents who are looking for places for children start to worry when school starts up in the fall. And so, Head Start may not be their first consideration because of that,” McCullough says.
As a tribal program, Tlingit-Haida Head Start gives a preference for Native preschoolers. It also favors low-income children, though others, such as the Guthries, still get in.
Rinehart says he polled staff about the best way to address the budget cut.
“We provided options from a shorter work week to ending the school year earlier or starting the next school year later. And our survey overwhelmingly showed support for a later start-up,” Rinehart says.
Officials say flat funding doesn’t keep up with inflation. A number of grants are no longer available, and that’s hurt the program too.
Back at the Guthrie house, Savann is thinking about sequestration’s impacts.
“Any time you’re cutting the money, who you’re really hurting are the people and the families and the kids who need it the most,” she says.
Her husband and children are Tlingit and Tsimshian and she says her family has enjoyed the cultural aspects of the program.
And she encourages other parents to think about joining too.
“It doesn’t matter what your race is and where you come from, it’s a great place for kids. And it’s a great place for them to learn basic skills from brushing their teeth to how to say please and thank you. It’s a great experience and the staff does a really good job,” she says.
Tlingit-Haida Head Start classrooms open for students on Sept. 23.