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Southeast Alaska News

Is there more important funding than schools?

Mon, 2014-04-14 12:00

As board member Tonia Rioux looks on, Superintendent Steve Bradshaw told assembly members to “love every kid who walks down our streets.” (Image courtesy KSCT-TV)

Should the state do more for schools when local governments — like Sitka’s — are not doing all they can?

That was the question hanging over a joint work session between the Sitka School Board and Sitka Assembly Thursday night (4-10-14).

The board presented a draft budget to the assembly with a modest increase in local support to schools — less than $200,000 — but also delivered a clear message that more was needed.


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They’re calling themselves the “Education Legislature,” but Juneau has not settled on a level of school support this year that most districts consider adequate, and there was a serious attempt to amend the constitution to allow public education dollars to flow to private schools — including religious schools.

This was the backdrop for two recent lobbying trips to Juneau by Sitka school board members Lon Garrison and Jennifer Robinson.

During the work session with the assembly, Robinson said her efforts to advocate for more state funding for local schools were undermined by one issue: Sitka does not contribute the maximum funding allowed by law to its local schools.

Robinson is also director of the Sitka Chamber of Commerce, as well as daughter of Sitka mayor Mim McConnell.

She told the assembly she did not often get on a soapbox, but Sitka’s failure to fully fund schools locally was beginning to take a toll on her.

There are two things that I considered when I moved here: It wasn’t how beautiful it is; it wasn’t that this has been my home. Number one, my family was here, and Number two, Sitka has an amazing school system. It’s a place I know my kids are going to get a great education. If either one of those hadn’t been here, I would not have moved back to Sitka. Because as a single parent, it’s not worth the struggle of trying to survive without family support, or where my kids are not going to get a quality education. I have to pay so much to live here, and I have to work so hard to make it happen, that without education it wouldn’t have been worth it. I’d rather live someplace else where I can afford to live, and can make sure my kids are well-educated and can be successful. And I’m not the only one that feels this way. And if we don’t make sure that we are funding the programs our kids need, we are going to be losing more and more families. There has to be a way to make a living, and there has to be quality schools for families to stay here. I don’t care how affordable the housing is, or what kind of economic development we bring in — if we kill the school system now, we’re not going to keep the families long enough to get to that point.

Robinson asked assembly members — as they prepare to write their own budget — to consider what they were spending money on that “might not be as important as schools.”

The City of Sitka contributed a little over $5-million in funding to schools this year — about $1.6-million less than the “cap,” or the amount allowed by state law.

The city contributes thousands more to the district in ways that don’t count against the cap — through Community Schools, for example, and sports activities. But Robinson and Garrison said they repeatedly were questioned by legislators about Sitka’s failure to fund education to the cap.

Assembly members had no direct response to the board’s appeal. Pete Esquiro was concerned that the district was reducing staff at Baranof and Blatchley.

He questioned the wisdom of cutting people, while pursuing technology goals that would put a computer tablet in every child’s hands in the near future.

Board president Lon Garrison responded that the landscape of education was changing.

There’s no turning back. We’ve taken the exit on the new digital freeway. And there really is no going back. And the way education will be delivered: By the time the kindergarteners this year graduate, my guess is that well over 50-percent of them will go on to get higher education and it will all be distance-delivered. Brick and mortar is fast disappearing, and the world is changing quicker than you can imagine. Things that we did in 2007 and 2008 — it seems like decades ago, especially when you figure that the iPhone was introduced in 2007. It’s difficult to get a grasp on that — I grant you that, Pete. I hear a lot about It’s the People, and I totally agree.

The work session was a more cordial exchange between the two elected bodies than it’s been in the past. In fact, assembly member Mike Reif complimented the board on it’s conservative approach toward its use of reserves, and its expectations for state funding.

One notable difference with past meetings was that outgoing superintendent Steve Bradshaw did not speak until he was invited to share his opinion by the assembly. Over his thirteen years on the job, Bradshaw has occasionally used this forum to press the assembly hard. His swan song, however, was conciliatory.

And I know you’re faced with tough choices. I know the budget’s tight. But I also know that we find ways to get the things done that we want in life. Whether that’s in our personal budgets, our state budgets, community budgets, or federal budgets. And far too often you hear people providing lip service to what’s best for education. This community has always supported education. From Pacific High School to the auditorium, to everything else we’ve asked for. So I would urge you in the future to continue to do that. Because that, I believe, is our goal, is to try to make each generation a little bit better. And again the only way I think we can do that is to teach children to think, to be creative, and to be proud of who they are and where they’re from.

One bright note in school funding this year is Secure Rural Schools. The federal program for states with significant National Forest Lands has funneled $500,000 into the Sitka district over the last several years. Secure Rural Schools was considered a non-existent possibility at the beginning of this budget cycle, but powerful western senators have revived it. The school board is confident enough to add the money to its revenues, and reduce the amount it now expects to take out of reserves to balance the budget to $400,000.

The school board will hold a final budget hearing on April 21, and submit a final budget to the assembly shortly thereafter.

Local blood draws give window into your health

Mon, 2014-04-14 11:09

(From left) Liz Bacom, Jessica Fetters, Laurie Miller, Nancy Higgins, and Cindy Fisher stand in front of the “Siemens Dimension Chemistry Analyser” screening machine in the Petersburg Medical Center. Photo/Angela Denning

Advances in technology have made knowing your health a lot easier. Medical equipment at the Petersburg Medical Center allows local lab workers to read fine details of a person’s blood, to find out how their sugar and cholesterol levels are doing and much more. Every other year, Petersburg residents get a chance to check their blood through blood draws associated with the Petersburg Health Fair.

The blood draws have been going on for about the last thirty years. To find out more, Angela Denning spoke with Liz Bacom and Jessica Fetters with the Petersburg Medical Center:

The Health Fair happens April 26 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the community gym. People can pick up their blood draw results there. The results will NOT be mailed out this year so people must pick them up at the fair. If you miss the fair, you can pick them up later at the lab.

Here is a link to the Health Fair and scheduling.

Last week to apply for Petersburg community grants

Mon, 2014-04-14 08:44

The Petersburg Community Foundation is trying to give away thousands of dollars. The charitable foundation awards annual grants and this year, the pot is $10,000. The money will be divvied up to local non-profits that apply and are found to have legitimate causes.

For over 40 years, David Wallen earned money fishing around Petersburg. Now he’s retired and has the time to give back. He’s one of several volunteers with Petersburg Community Foundation trying to facilitate this year’s grant process. Wallen says a core group of non-profits usually apply year after year but the money has been spread around over time.

“Oh, Children’s Center, Little Norway, just a myriad of projects and groups,” Wallen says. “I believe that there are something like 75 non-profit groups in Petersburg. It surprised me when I read the list but there’s quite a few and they’re all eligible.”

The deadline to apply is April 18. Wallen explains how the process works.

“When they put in their applications, which are done on-line, we will receive them after the closure of the period. We will read and grade each application,” Wallen says. “Of course, it is up to the individual group to request whatever it is that they feel they need and then to justify that.”

There’s no question that there are many local non-profits that need help with funding. In making their decision on who gets what, Wallen says the foundation is looking for the effectiveness of how far the money will go towards a specific need.

“With a very real eye toward what will a partial grant mean to the whole grant, whether or not they will be able to fill that in,” Wallen says. “It’s a critical part and it’s sometimes overlooked.”

Wallen says they rarely give groups the full amount that they ask for but awards typically range from $500 to $2,500.

The Petersburg Community Foundation was established in 2008. It has a permanent endowment fund which is used to improve the quality of life in Petersburg.

“It’s a loose knit revolving group of people that have interest with finding people with needs and sources for helping them,” Wallen says.

There will be an awards celebration around Little Norway days when the recipients will find out about their awards.

Applications must be done on-line. You can do that at petersburgcf.org and follow the grant links there.

Minimum wage bill passes state House

Mon, 2014-04-14 00:04

One of the most hotly contested bills of the 2014 Legislature — the effort to raise the minimum wage — got even hotter after it passed the House on Sunday.

The measure approved by the House was changed on the floor to raise the wage to $9 an hour in 2015 and to $10 an hour in 2016 — those numbers had been $8.75 and $9.75, respectively. It would be adjusted annually for inflation each year after that.

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Alaska ad proudly ties Begich to 'Obamacare'

Mon, 2014-04-14 00:03

WASHINGTON — After months of watching Democrats get hammered over President Barack Obama’s health care law, friends of an embattled senator are fighting back by proudly linking him to “Obamacare.”

An independent group in Alaska is airing a TV ad that praises Democratic Sen. Mark Begich for helping people obtain insurance even if they have “pre-existing conditions,” such as cancer.

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Saxman adds $5M MIEX system to treat its water

Mon, 2014-04-14 00:03

SAXMAN — City of Saxman water operator Richard Shields beams as he walks through the new, nine-years-in-the-making surface water treatment facility, describing its state-of-the-art capabilities amidst the whirr of machinery.

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Exhibit variety plan for Sitka museum

Mon, 2014-04-14 00:03

SITKA — Rotating artifacts and themed exhibits are part of the Sitka Historical Society’s plan to make their museum a more dynamic place to learn about Sitka’s past.

Sitka Historical Society Executive Director Hal Spackman spoke at Wednesday’s Chamber of Commerce lunch and explained that the society is revamping its approach to telling Sitka’s story.

“I hope for other people it’s a rebirth of the Sitka Historical Society,” Spackman said.

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Energy Dep't seeks methane hydrate proposals

Mon, 2014-04-14 00:03

ANCHORAGE — The U.S. Department of Energy is soliciting for another round of research into methane hydrates, the potentially huge energy source of “frozen gas” that could step in for shortages of other fossil fuels.

The department is looking for research projects on the North Slope of Alaska that could explore how to economically extract the gas locked in ice far below the Earth’s surface.

DOE is also seeking researchers to document methane hydrate deposits in outer continental shelf waters of coastal states.

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Kenai Chamber of Commerce pitches new electronic sign

Mon, 2014-04-14 00:03

KENAI — With the Kenai Chamber of Commerce celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, Fred Braun, a director for the chamber, said he could not think of a better gift from the City of Kenai than a new sign.

At the April 2 Kenai City Council meeting, Braun and chamber treasurer Brendyn Shiflea presented a proposal for a new electronic reader board sign for the Chamber and Visitor and Cultural Center. The purpose of the sign would be to promote events for both the chamber and visitor’s center.

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Governor's pension plan gets municipal support

Mon, 2014-04-14 00:02

JUNEAU — Municipal leaders on Saturday expressed support for Gov. Sean Parnell’s approach to addressing the state’s pension obligation.

They also supported keeping the municipal contribution to the public employees’ retirement system at its current level. Municipal leaders have been worried that lawmakers would propose raising the local contribution as part of a plan to address the unfunded pension liability, though no such proposal has been made.

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'Books and things' turns into a store

Mon, 2014-04-14 00:02

FAIRBANKS — Alaskana Raven “Books and Things” may not have been open for very long, but it has a lot of history. The small book store is located at the end of a hallway in the Co-op Market on Second Avenue in Fairbanks.

James Rogan opened the store with his wife, Molly Leahy, in June to expand their love of the 49th state to anyone in Fairbanks. The store is no bigger than a living room but contains myriad texts on the farthest-north state in the union.

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Alaskans line up for free dental care

Mon, 2014-04-14 00:02

ANCHORAGE — Alaskans have been lining up for a two-day clinic offering free dental care in Anchorage that was scheduled to begin Friday.

ZhanCai Hanna Lee of Anchorage was the first in line Thursday morning outside the downtown Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center for the effort called the Alaska Mission of Mercy, the Anchorage Daily News reported. People who lined up behind her included residents of Anchorage, Ketchikan, Fairbanks and Tok.

“This right here has been a blessing to us,” said Lee, 59, pointing to the sidewalk sign advertising the clinic.

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Legislative digest for Sunday, April 13, 2014

Mon, 2014-04-14 00:01

The Alaska State Senate passed Senate Bill 216 on Friday, better known as “Erin’s Law.”

Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, introduced the legislation to combat Alaska’s high rates of child abuse.

SB216 requires school districts, with the assistance of the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, to implement age-appropriate training and curricula on sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention for students, kindergarten through high school.

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With one week to go, Parnell weighs in on the issues

Sun, 2014-04-13 00:10

The state is facing projections for revenue shortfalls throughout the next decade, but Republican Gov. Sean Parnell is looking beyond the shortfalls and the next four years should he win another term.

Two issues poised to share some of the strongest scrutiny and most passionate debate during the final seven days of the 2014 Legislature are Parnell-backed priorities that focus on issues decades away.

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Alaska Senate passes $2.2B capital budget

Sun, 2014-04-13 00:09

JUNEAU — The state Senate passed a $2.2 billion state capital budget Friday, along with a bill to raise the borrowing limit of the Alaska Municipal Bond Bank Authority as part of an overall package to help build a new heat and power plant at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Reconsideration was served on the budget, meaning it could be voted on again before going to the House. Friday’s vote was 19-1, with Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, voting against.

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The cost of travel by sea

Sun, 2014-04-13 00:09

Not many shipping companies pay more than $1,100 for every passenger they service, but that’s the average cost to the state of Alaska for each Marine Highway System user.

Less than 1 percent of everyone who travels across Alaska without flying does so via the Marine Highway System, yet that budget dwarfs the cost of maintaining the roads used by the remaining 99 percent.

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Sitka bear task force tackles ‘trash caches’

Fri, 2014-04-11 18:51

ADF&G has identified 10 locations around Sitka where bears are taking garbage bags to sort their “loot.” This bear was caught in the act in a Sitka neighborhood last summer. (ADF&G photo/Phil Mooney)

Sitkans will be doing some spring cleaning this weekend — but it’s not the usual sort of neighborhood sprucing up.

The Sitka Bear Task Force has organized work parties to tackle several bear caches — the places around town where brown bears have been dragging garbage bags over the years, to sort through their loot undisturbed.

Alaska Department of Fish & Game biologist Phil Mooney says cleaning up these so-called “trash caches” is no small job.

“Over the years you’ll get some places where you’ll have 2 and 3 pickup loads of material that’s piled back in there.”

The caches don’t have anything edible left in them, but they’ve become large enough to be an ongoing concern.

“It’s not of much value to the bears at that point but it’s an attraction — a curiosity thing. And it’s also a nuisance for other animals, ravens and eagles, that distribute that trash over the landscape.”

ADF&G has identified ten caches around town that need cleanup. Work this weekend will begin at 10AM Saturday on the old Harbor Mountain Road. Cadets from the Alaska Public Safety Academy will provide much of the labor. Mooney says the Sitka Bear Task Force has been in touch with other organizations — like the Boy Scouts and 4H — which might like to help with some of the other caches.

He says it’s important to go in now, before vegetation has leafed out. He’s noticed that people are anxious about cleaning up someone else’s trash — when that “someone” might not appreciate the help.

“And quite frankly, I don’t blame them. In some cases it’s a little spooky to be going in and picking up stuff like that if you think that the bear is nearby.”

Mooney says the caches are actually quite close to housing areas — maybe 40 to 50 meters — but totally out of sight. Bears that use the caches have become skilled raiders, toppling cans, grabbing what they can and heading to their caches.

Cleaning the caches may not stop this behaviour on the part of bears, but it may change OUR behaviour.

“Do I think the bears are going to go back to those after we clean them? Yup. I do. I think those places exist because the bears know they can get in and use them. On the other hand, when we get a call saying, Hey, a bear’s been in the neighborhood, he’s dragged some bags of garbage off, we’ll be able to go in there and pick those bags up and try to find out who they came from. Then we can go to them and say, Look, obviously he’s been getting into your trash. Let’s see what we can do to fix that.”

Mooney says anyone is welcome to participate in the Sitka Bear Task Force’s “Clean the Scene” effort. You don’t have to be a trooper to come out this Saturday morning at 10 AM to the old Harbor Mountain Road. Anyone who would like to join the work can call the department for more information at 747-5449.

Artist explores secret-keeping

Fri, 2014-04-11 18:26

MacNaughton’s portraits will be displayed at Rio’s Wine Bar in Sitka through the end of May. (KCAW photo/Rachel Waldholz)

Juneau artist MK MacNaughton asks people about secrets.

She doesn’t ask them to tell her their secrets – instead, she asks what it feels like to keep secrets. And then she uses their stories to guide her in drawing giant charcoal portraits – three feet tall by three feet wide – that express those feelings.

MacNaughton created a set of portrait trading cards from her work. (KCAW photo/Rachel Waldholz)

Seventeen of those portraits were shown recently in the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, and now about ten of them are hanging at Rio’s Wine Bar in Sitka.

MacNaughton asked her subjects to give her an image that represents the experience of holding onto secrets. The first person she asked was a friend, Shona Strauser.

“Shona’s image was butterflies. She said the weight of one butterfly on my heart is nothing, but the weight of a thousand is too many to bear,” MacNaughton said. “People tell her secrets. Which I realized is why I was drawn to her as a subject, because she was somebody that I feel like I could confide in. And apparently everyone feels that way, and that was one of my favorites.”

During the project, MacNaughton volunteered to do portraits at Juneau’s Glory Hole soup kitchen and homeless shelter. One of the men who showed up to have his portrait taken told her that there was one secret he couldn’t bear to keep.

“His mom had been killed in a gang shooting when he was eight years old and died in his arms,” MacNaughton said. “He described the wounds, and he said, you know I have to talk about it, or it’s like a brick wall on my shoulders.”

The artist based her portraits on what people told her about keeping secrets. (KCAW photo/Rachel Waldholz)

Another subject, a radiology technologist, talked about the moment when she saw something on a patient’s scan that would change her life, but couldn’t tell her – because telling the patient is the doctor’s job. MacNaughton drew her inside the “cone of silence” from the TV show Get Smart.

MacNaughton has practiced art all her life, but she only recently started calling herself an artist. She was for years the artistic coordinator at The Canvas Community Art Studio, which offers art classes for people with disabilities, and is now the Executive Director of the Alaska Arts Education Consortium.

At a certain point, she said, she just had to take a leap of faith.

“It was just deciding I was gonna do it. Just deciding,” MacNaughton said. “All my life I’ve enjoyed art, and I never called myself an artist until a couple of years ago, probably because I thought it sounds arrogant. Because, does that mean I think I’m good enough to be an artist, or really good? So I avoided that theme, though I would always encourage the children or artists with disabilities that I worked with to call themselves artists. And I finally took my own advice and thought, ‘I need to get over it.’ We all do, we need to celebrate being brave enough to try.”

MacNaughton’s portraits will remain on display at Rio’s Wine Bar through the end of May. Rio’s will host an opening reception for the artwork tomorrow (Sat 4-12-14) from 5 to 9 p.m.

MacNaughton will teach two charcoal drawing classes during the day tomorrow (Sat 4-12-14): an introduction to still life drawing from 10 a.m. to noon, and a class on drawing portraits from 1-3 p.m. The costs for each class is $20. Students in the portrait class should bring a photograph to draw from. 

Let the Good Times Roll!

Fri, 2014-04-11 15:41

There are a million ways to have fun with Raven Radio, but we need members like you to make that fun happen! Please pitch in and make a contribution today to your membership-powered radio station– and let the good times roll! http://bit.ly/1kaYZiU

Sitka Tribe names new general manager

Fri, 2014-04-11 15:25

Lawrence SpottedBird will take over as general manager of STA on Monday, April 14. (STA photo)

The Sitka Tribe of Alaska has hired a new general manager. Lawrence SpottedBird, currently of Washington State, will start work on Monday (4-14-14).

STA’s previous manager, Ted Wright, resigned in October, after about two years on the job. Tribal Attorney Allen Bell has been serving as the interim manager since then.

Speaking with KCAW on Thursday, SpottedBird, a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma, said he has spent the last 34 years working with tribes and Native American entrepreneurs on business and economic development. He currently runs a consulting firm, SpottedBird Development.

“I consult with primarily tribes and Native American individuals in business development, with a focus on federal contracting development, looking for opportunities in contracting with the U.S. federal government,” SpottedBird said. “A lot of tribal governments and Native American entrepreneurs are taking advantage of the many incentive programs in the federal government and developing contracting enterprises to do so.”

SpottedBird has also spent time in Southeast Alaska: from 1999 to 2000 he served as general manager of Shaan Seet, the village Native corporation in Craig, on Prince of Wales Island.

Tribal Council Chairman Michael Baines said SpottedBird’s background in economic development is exactly what the Sitka Tribe needs. One key priority for STA in coming years will be finding new sources of revenue, Baines said.

SpottedBird agreed.

“Getting a solid footing financially and budgetarily is very important,” he said. “So I will be focusing on looking at ways to address the budget and financial situation that any tribe – or any government really – faces around the country.”

Baines said the Council received about sixteen applications for the position, and flew in three finalists for interviews. All of the finalists came from outside of Sitka.

SpottedBird will be formally introduced to the Tribal Council and public at 6 p.m. next Wednesday, April 16, at the Sheet’ka Kwaan Na Kahidi, immediately before the council’s regular meeting.