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The budget picture for the Sitka School District next year is starting to look a little less dire. What started out as a projected $1.5-million deficit just a few weeks ago, has been teased down to $44,000 — but only by drawing on over half of the district’s savings account.
It was just a budget work session (3-5-14), but pretty much standing room only in the district office board room.
Sitka superintendent Steve Bradshaw and the district’s business manager, Cassee Olin, had nipped, trimmed, and tucked a budget worksheet that now was showing only $44,000 in red ink next year.
The savings come from several sources: The retirement of six teachers at the top of the pay scale is worth $150,000; the district is catching a break on its insurance rates next year, for a savings of $70,000. Some adjustments to the contract for new superintendent Mary Wegner — who won’t need moving expenses, for instance — amounted to $25,000.
The only proposed staffing cut is the director of Community Schools. Current director Scott McAdams already splits his time as high school Activity Director. Bradshaw said the district office had already absorbed most of the community schools responsibilities, but he said, “we absolutely can’t do without an activities director.”
But the biggest difference came on the revenue side: Bradshaw would like the board to transfer $900,000 out of savings into the operating fund — just like it did last year.
The idea did not sit well with the board, since it would leave the district with only a little over $700,000 in the bank. The district will be implementing new curriculum materials in Math and Language Arts next year — the so-called “Common Core” — and that’s expected to cost up to $300,000 for new books and teacher training, which would have to be paid out of reserves.
And unlike last year, there is little hope of a federal windfall in the form of the Secure Rural Schools Act.
Board members asked Bradshaw to contemplate some scenario that involved deeper cuts than the savings they had been shown so far, in order to protect the district’s reserves.
Bradshaw, with thirteen years under his belt, was reluctant to go there.
“We’ve gone through this every year, as some of our people have pointed out, and every year we come back and we’re okay. And so if we go out there and cry wolf again this year… If you mandate that I find $600,000, we’ll go out and work on $600,000. We’re sitting in a community that has a fairly decent reserve compared to most communities around this country. We’re sitting in a state that has fairly decent reserves. And I’ve always felt like: If we got to that point where we got back and we had 90 less kids than projected, we could still go to this community and get through that school year. Now they may not like it, but this community has always stepped forward when it comes to education.”
Bradshaw said there had been years when the district went fairly deep into its reserves — one year going as low as $180,000. Olin, asked for her opinion, said the optimum amount for Sitka to keep in the bank was $500,000, or about one payroll.
Still, board member Jennifer Robinson wanted to know what was really at stake if the district had fewer students than expected next year, or if the legislature — contrary to expectations — failed to pass any increase in per-pupil funding for schools.
She wanted real talking points for her next trip to Juneau.
“I would kind of like to know what are the things that we would be faced with cutting if we can’t come up with enough money to cover these things? I’m going to be sitting down in offices with legislators, and I’d like to be able to say, Look, we have to pay for this Math curriculum, we have to pay for these teacher evaluations. If we don’t get money from you, who have mandated us to make these changes, then this is what we’re looking at cutting from our district, and this is the impact that it’s going to have.”
Ultimately, Bradshaw agreed to find $44,000 in cuts which, he said, “won’t hurt anybody.”
The board has scheduled one more budget hearing for March 27, but president Lon Garrison said it was unlikely that it will be the last. With economic uncertainties remaining over the adoption of the new Common Core, teacher evaluations, and online testing — and a big question mark hovering over this year’s legislature — board members thought it wise to wait and see just a bit longer on the 2015 budget.
In what might have been one of most tightly-played games between cross-town rivals this season, the Sitka Wolves pulled out a one-point win over the Mt. Edgecumbe Braves, in the second round of the Region V tournament in Juneau today.
The final score was 43-42, Sitka.
Daily Sitka Sentinel sports editor Tom Hesse is covering the games. He says win came down to the last possession, and it was not Sitka’s size that paid off, as much as their depth.
See the full tournament schedule, and view the tournament livestream here.
“You know, their size was important, but Edgecumbe has dealt with size in the past. I asked Andy Lee that same question after the game, and the coach of the boys’ basketball team said, You know, we won this game in July. What he meant by that was what it came down to for Sitka was muscle memory, instinct, and all the hours this team has spent together. All the things they did right: making the extra pass when they had to, making the extra defensive rotation, and capitalizing on a couple of turnovers. It was a pretty even contest. Sitka just had nice, balanced scoring througout the game, and they were just able to hold it together for the win.”
Sitka will likely meet Mt. Edgecumbe again on Friday. The Braves play the Petersburg Vikings in the losers bracket — a team whom they beat on Wednesday by 22 points — and if they win that contest they’ll have another shot at Sitka.
Still, Sitka must lose twice to be eliminated from the tournament. If Edgecumbe won a rematch with the Wolves, they’d have to play one last game — known in the parlance of the double-elimination tournament as an “If” game.
On the girls’ side, the Mt. Edgecumbe Lady Braves defeated the Petersburg Lady Vikings 40-36 in the second round. The Lady Vikings defeated the Sitka girls in the opening round of the tournament. The Lady Wolves and Lady Vikings will have a rematch on Friday to determine who will meet Mt. Edgecumbe in the finals. As with the boy’s bracket, Mt. Edgecumbe must lose twice on the final day to be eliminated.
Throughout his administration, Gov. Sean Parnell has accused the Environmental Protection Agency of “overreaching” on Alaska affairs. Now, it looks like the EPA may have reached into Parnell’s own home. The Governor’s Mansion appears on a list of construction projects requiring EPA intervention for lead violations.
Lead poisoning is nasty business. It can cause headaches and seizures, and result in miscarriages. If you’re a child, the symptoms are especially bad.
“Lethargy. Inability to pay of attention. At high enough levels, it can cause death,” says Wallace Reid.
Reid works out of the EPA’s Seattle office, and his team handles investigations into lead violations. Because a lot of modern cases of lead exposure are caused by home repairs, the EPA implemented a rule in 2010 requiring contractors to be certified in lead paint removal if they’re working on a house that was built before 1978.
Like the Alaska Governor’s Mansion.
The building is a century old, and the state hired Alaska Commercial Contractors to restore the whole exterior a couple of years ago. And that meant removing lead paint, which the company was not certified to do at the time.
“We first became aware of it – this problem in Alaska – because of an anonymous tip and complaint that this work was going on and that there were problems associated with it,” says Reid.
Reid says that as soon as the EPA learned of the violation, they sent two inspectors to check the area for lead paint. They found paint chips on the lawn and on the street.
“When we do this kind of work, all of the lead paint chips and dust has to be maintained within a contained area,” says Reid. “In this case, it was not. And the company was not certified, and the employees were not trained. So those were fundamental violations of our rules.”
Because of the violations, Alaska Commercial Contractors ended up settling with the EPA for $32,000. Their subcontractor, Van Pool Painting, was also dinged $10,000. While the settlements were finalized in September, the EPA only recently made the violations public.
Alaska Commercial Contractors declined to do a taped interview for this story, because there are still outstanding legal questions related to the construction project. But in a written statement, company president Doug Courtney emphasized that Alaska Commercial Contractors cooperated fully with the EPA, and that they became certified in lead paint removal shortly after the incident.
So, why did the state hire a company that was not certified in lead paint removal in the first place?
When asked about that, Administration Commissioner Curtis Thayer declined an interview because of ongoing challenges related to the contract. At $1.5 million, Alaska Commercial Contractors was the highest bidder for the project, and two rival contractors whose bids came in under $1 million appealed the award. The Office of Administrative Hearings rejected both of those protests, but Silver Bow Construction is appealing the decision to the Alaska Supreme Court.
Alaska Commercial Contractors has also requested that the State pay out $150,000 to cover their EPA penalties and legal fees, because they allege that Department of Administration misled them on the scope of the project. The Department of Administration found no merit to that request in January, but the decision is subject to appeal.
Gov. Sean Parnell also declined repeated requests for an interview. Instead, his office referred questions to Larry Hartig, the commissioner of Environmental Conservation.
Hartig says his department’s involvement in the renovation problem was limited. They mostly helped the EPA get access to the governor’s home to make sure the lead paint didn’t pose a health hazard.
“Obviously, there was concerns about the safety of the governor’s family,” says Hartig. “And so they were interested in what was going on – we all were – in making sure that if there is an issue here that would impact the governor and his family, we wanted to be on top of that.”
Hartig says there was no real risk to the Parnell family. He says even the governor’s yellow Labrador, the most frequent user of the mansion’s backyard, was kept safe from lead exposure.
“Annie’s doing fine the last time I saw Annie.”
A former employee of the State Crime Lab in Anchorage has been charged with six felonies, including drug misconduct and tampering with evidence.
The Department of Law in says 53-year-old Stephen Palmer was arrested today.
He’s charged with scheme to defraud, drug misconduct and four counts of evidence tampering. He’s also charged with four misdemeanor counts of official misconduct.
Alaska State Troopers launched an investigation seven months ago after detecting irregularities in lab reference standards, the controlled samples of illegal drugs kept at the state crime lab.
Prosecutors say investigators also determined drug evidence was missing in cases worked by Palmer.
Prosecutors say they don’t believe the irregularities discovered in reference standards affected the validity of testing performed by other analysts.
Borough mayors are asking to be part of the discussions on terms related to a mega-liquefied natural gas project that will affect local communities.
An agreement signed by the state and companies pursuing the project says subject to consultation between the state and local governments, payments in lieu of property taxes would be paid by the companies.
The mayor of the Kenai Peninsula Borough, Mike Navarre, told the Senate Finance Committee that consultation is not a strong word.
The mayors are seeking greater assurances for the level of input they will have as the process moves forward.
The committee is weighing a bill that would make the state an equity partner and allow for the project to move into a phase of preliminary engineering and design.
Jeff King is resting at the Yukon river checkpoint of Ruby. The four time Iditarod champion is technically in the lead at this point, but Martin Buser, Aliy Zirkle and Robert Sorlie are closing in, and they’ve already completed their 24 hour layovers. Once teams leave Ruby, they’ll have a chance to take advantage of any remaining speed they have on the flat river miles ahead.
The United States and four other Arctic nations have tentatively agreed to prevent commercial fishing in the high Arctic.
The Canadian Press reports that Canada, Denmark, Norway, and Russia signed on to the ban after three days of meetings in Greenland last week. The measure was originally pitched by the United States, and it didn’t have support from Norway or Russia until now.
The details of the ban are still being worked out. But the basics are clear: The countries have to do more scientific research on Arctic fish stocks. In the meantime, they will not engage in commercial fishing in the Arctic Ocean outside their 200-mile exclusive economic zones.
In the United States, that area begins at the northern edge of Alaska. Fishing has already been banned within the American Arctic since 2009.
Because this new moratorium applies to international waters in the Arctic Ocean, there’s no guarantee that other countries will choose to honor it.
The next step is to get more nations on board beyond these five Arctic states. In a statement, the Arctic group said they plan to spend the rest of the year lobbying for broader support.
Kuskowkim fisherman are expected to face serious restrictions on subsistence salmon fishing this summer in efforts to bring more king salmon to the spawning grounds. With fishing closed possibly all of June, the working group is asking that dipnets be used selectively to harvest non-Chinook salmon.
For the past month, a group of fuel supply workers in Unalaska have been trying to unionize. And they’ve also accused their employer, Delta Western, of mistreating them for it.
The workers took to the picket line on Tuesday to protest with other local union members.
Leo Dacio is a driver for Delta Western, and a spokesman for the pro-union workers.
He alleges that the company cut off their access to some facilities after they walked off the job the first time, in February.
“They changed the locks on the break room and on the shop, and at the shop — that’s where we wash our clothes, our work clothes. And that’s the only shower,” Dacio said.
The only emergency shower, to wash off chemicals in a hurry. The washing machines are there so employees don’t have to worry about getting toxic or flammable substances in their machines at home.
Dacio alleges that the only people who lost access to those facilities were the workers who wanted to join the Inlandboatmen’s Union. He says they didn’t get new keys again until Friday — and they only got them then because they asked their manager.
“They did have some issues with the lock and they changed it,” Kirk Payne, the president of Delta Western, said. ”But this facility is open [from] 7 in the morning to 7 p.m. every day, to where you don’t need a key. And when somebody needed access or needed a key, they were given it.”
In the last month, Payne and the president of Delta Western’s parent company have both visited the island to talk with their employees. Brian Bogen is the head of North Star Petroleum, and he was in town just hours before Tuesday’s strike.
At this point, Delta Western workers says they are still waiting for the company to formally respond to a written request they made in February — to be recognized as union members.
Payne, the president of Delta Western, says that’s not going to happen.
“What the union needs to do is to file a petition with the NLRB that says, ‘Hey, these guys want to be represented,’” he said.
The National Labor Relations Board would run the rest of the unionization process, possibly leading up to a formal vote.
Adam Dalton is an organizer from the Inlandboatmen’s Union. He’s been in Unalaska for the past two weeks, and he says the workers are getting ready to file a petition with the NLRB sometime soon.
In the meantime, Dalton says he’s convinced that changing the locks at Delta Western did keep union supporters from accessing facilities. And Dalton says that that violates the National Labor Relations Act.
“Basically any change to the workers’ conditions — to the conditions of their employment — that they had access to before, would be an unfair labor practice,” he said.
Dalton says the union is adding this alleged violation to a complaint they filed with the NLRB last month. At that time, the Inlandboatmen’s Union accused Delta Western of trying to intimidate and punish its pro-union workers.
That kind of behavior is what the workers said they were responding to when they walked off the job on Tuesday.
About a half a dozen Delta Western employees joined the picket line, despite the fact that the company’s fuel barge had just arrived to deliver a shipment.
Delta Western rounded up a crew to unload the fuel. But they also called the police.
Unalaska police sergeant Bill Simms says the picketers were technically trespassing as they stood at the mouth of Delta Western’s fuel dock.
The protesters moved, the police didn’t get any more complaints, and the strike went on as planned.
“Delta Western, you don’t care. Unsafe, unfair. Delta Western, you don’t care,” the crowd chanted.
Delta Western has roughly 18 workers at its fuel shop in Unalaska. Right now, about seven of them want to join the union.
The state has taken steps to ban the importation and sale of some aquatic plants that are commonly found in aquariums. Elodea is a plant used in fishbowls that has become a big problem in Alaska, and is considered an invasive species. Last year, the state began working to eradicate the plant from areas in Fairbanks and in Anchorage.
Kikkan Randall has a lock on her 3rd straight World Cup sprint title. Randall did not make the finals in a classic technique sprint in Drammen Norway Wednesday, but her seventh place finish there mathematically clinches the season title. Just one sprint race remains. Retaining the title as the world’s top woman sprinter is some consolation for Randall who struggled at last month’s Sochi Olympics, where she’s d hoped to medal.
Most speed records are broken by seconds or minutes. Wednesday, a Fairbanks cyclist demolished the Iditarod Trail Invitational record by almost a full week.
After pedaling almost 1,000 miles from Knik Lake to Nome, Jeff Oatly rolled across the finish at 4:53pm Wednesday, totaling 10 days, 2 hours, and 53 minutes. The previous record was 17 days and 2 hours.
“It’s fun. I had a great time the whole time,” Oatly said. “There was not a lot of times out there when I was thinking I wish I was at my desk doing work. I was having a blast.”
This was Oatly’s first race all the way to Nome. But Oatly is no rookie. He’s completed the 350-mile route to McGrath 10 times. Only this year he rode with a different goal in mind.
“The mentality going in it is, I’m going to get to Nome. No matter what. I’ll get to Nome,” he said.
Oatly is not the only one who broke a record this year. So did Heather Best, Oatly’s wife. Best completed the 350-miles to McGrath in 2 days, 13 hours, and 14 minutes, undercutting the shortest time in the women’s division by over 27 hours. This year’s shattering speeds are attributed to the lack of fresh snow. Dirt and ice—a lot of it glare ice— covered most of the trail, and the snow that did appear was mostly hard-packed. Oatly says, the trail offered little reason to slow down or dismount, an option he welcomed when it came along.
“I was not unhappy when I had to get off a few times to walk up hills and things like that. I didn’t want any snow to slow me down, because I was enjoying going fast,” he said. “But when you never get off the bike, when you’re just riding fast all the time, you get to the point where everything hurts from that, too. So it’s nice to change things up and get off the bike and walk.”
But this toll, Oatly says, is only temporary.
“Well, you do it for fun. It’s a recreation, you know. And stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing. On the body or mental stress,” he said. “It’s just sort of a state that you’re in, and then you have to recover from.”
Though racers who complete the Invitational to Nome travel almost 1,000 miles of Alaska’s wilderness, winners receive no prizes, no money, no compensation. But Oatly says the race itself is its own purse.
“Like life is very simple when you’re doing that kind of racing. You’re just riding and eating and sleeping. And that’s it. And it has a very nice rhythm, and it’s fun. And you’re out in just awesome, incredible scenery,” Oatly said. “And you get out here to the coast…but it’s so stunningly beautiful, and it’s just so hostile. I mean the wind just seems like it’s just eating at you from every direction all the time. It’s an experience. It’s fun.”
And as far as shattering records goes, well, Oatly remains unfazed.
“I mean, people can say whatever they want. It’s just a record. It’ll get broken eventually,” he said.
Sixteen competitors remain on the trail to Nome. Eleven are on bikes and four on foot. They come from seven different countries.
Eighteen people have applied to be Petersburg’s next school superintendent.
Current superintendent Rob Thomason is stepping down at the end of the school year and is coordinating the search for his replacement. “As with any search of this sort you’re gonna get a range but I really feel like we have some at the upper end that are intriguing to us and I think have some good skills that are worthy of strong consideration for Petersburg,” Thomason said.
The school district released a list of names of the applicants after it was requested by the Petersburg Pilot.
Several current and former Alaskans have applied.
Scott Butterfield is the superintendent of the Chatham school district and lives in Angoon. Another applicant from Southeast is Nancy Moon, an elementary principal from Ketchikan.
Lisa Stroh is superintendent in Valdez. There are also principals and administrators from Shageluk, Port Heiden, Unalakleet, Grayling and Soldotna. Other applicants are from around the U.S. and even Puerto Rico.
A team of current and former school board members, teachers and administrators will be trying to narrow down the list this Friday and hope to arrive on three applicants to bring to town for in-person interviews. Thomason is happy with the search process. “I think about the team who is reviewing this that everybody is just taking it very seriously. I just couldn’t be happier with the amount of effort and concern that’s going into the search. It’s going to be comprehensive.”
The district hopes to have onsite interviews with finalists at the end of this month or early April. Those would include a chance for parents and members of the public to meet the applicants and provide input.
Here’s the full list: David Albert of Plattewoods Missouri, William Bradshaw of Soldotna, Scott Butterfield of Angoon, Ralph Crosslin of Bellaite Michigan, Bernard Grieve of Shageluk, Michael Gullett of Grayling, Virginia Jewell of Monroe Georgia, Tariq Malik of Sugarland Texas, Sherry McKenzie of Port Heiden, Nancy Moon of Ketchikan, Angela Ritchie of Cedar Bluff Alabama, Paul Rockhold of Clarksville Tennessee, James Sines of Zanesville Ohio, Lisa Stroh of Valdez, Lowell Taylor of Lanark Illinois, Monte Thacker of Kerens Texas, Jay Thomas of Unalakleet and Ismael Villafane of Mercedita Puerto Rico.
(Editor’s note: this story has been corrected to show the request for list of applicants was an informal request by the Petersburg Pilot)
The Klawock High School Lady Chieftains faced the Skagway Lady Panthers Wednesday afternoon in the Southeast Regional 1A Basketball Tournament at Ketchikan High School.
When the Klawock girls played Skagway earlier this year, they lost by dozens of points. This time, the score was 37-32. Klawock lost, but by just a couple baskets.
Two of the Lady Chieftains starting players were benched earlier this seasons because of injuries, so the team has had a lot of adapting to do.
KRBD’s Emily Files talked after the game with team members Tiona Rudick, Keilani Stockton, Courtney Guthrie, Sierra Geibel, Jill Carl, and first-year coach Teresa Fairbanks.
Petersburg officials are waiting to hear an offer from the state of Alaska on the possible transfer of three state-owned docks in Petersburg’s new borough. The borough wants to secure state funding to repair the remote docks, if the local government agrees to take over those facilities from the state.
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On a trip to Juneau late last month, Mayor Mark Jensen met with the Department of Transportation’s State Ports and Harbor Engineer Mike Lukshin, the Alaska Department of Transportation on the status of three state owned docks in the Petersburg borough. The docks are at Papke’s Landing, Kupreanof and Entrance Island in Hobart Bay.
Jensen told the borough assembly he expects the state to offer the dock facilities to Petersburg along with some money. “It sounds like it’s gonna be the type of deal where they offer all three to us to take ‘em and there will be some dollar value, dollar amount that comes with ‘em. We will be getting a letter from him. He’s thinking about waiting til after the decision is made on the northern boundary of our borough and we’ll go from there.”
The dock in Hobart Bay would be impacted by the appeal of Petersburg’s northern borough boundary. A superior court judge has ruled in favor of Petersburg in that case, however, that ruling could still be appealed.
The floats at Papke’s and Kupreanof were built in 1961 while the Entrance Island Float was built in 1956. The state did some repair work and maintenance on the facilities in the 70s, 80s and 90s.
Assembly member John Havrilek wanted to find out about the condition of the three docks. “What I’d like to see if possible if we could get some just ball park figure of what those, I know Papke’s is in horrible shape, what those might cost to get into at least a safe condition. I don’t know on what the condition the other two are. But it’d be nice to know before they said you know we’d like to give you those and we’ll give you so much money for it, if that money would even come close to the repairs that are needed.”
The City of Kupreanof has expressed past interest in taking over the dock in that community and Petersburg officials have discussed a purchase or transfer of lands, the boat ramp and the dock at Papke’s Landing. That’s about 10 miles south of down.
DOT has been trying to transfer state-owned facilities to local governments. It did so with Petersburg’s North Harbor in 2005 after negotiating payment to the city of Petersburg for replacing the old docks and floats.
Harbor master Glorianne Wollen noted the difficulty for old city of Petersburg in securing enough funding for North Harbor. She said the DOT has mentioned some dollar amounts for the more remote docks. “I know that all of our discussion back and forth with DOT is we’ll never probably enter into that kind of an agreement again. That was just really unfair to the borough, or to the city at the time. So he’s been talking a little bit more reasonable numbers. And the numbers that he’s thrown at me is right around a million perhaps for each facility. So if you we’re to take that and then go through the municipal harbor grant which they would all be eligible for you could increase that to you know, two million.”
Petersburg’s assembly took no action on the dock issue.
In other assembly business, borough manager Steve Giesbrecht gave an update on plans to repair the wooden Rasmus Enge Bridge on Sing Lee Alley and said work is scheduled to start up this month. “The tentative plan for the project is for public works to start on the bridge in mid March kind of weather dependent. It’ll take approximately two months to complete. Some of the stringers will be replaced and all of the decking to try and get some more life out of that bridge.” Giesbrecht says the state DOT has de-rated the bridge until the work is complete, allowing a maximum weight limit of three tons per axle, 12,000 pounds for cars and trucks or 18,000 pounds for tandem rear axle trucks.
The assembly also approved the third and final reading of revised borough ordinances on elections and criminal code.
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