The Haines School Board decided to boost the school district’s financial support for activities’ travel to state competitions. They also approved a year-long leave of absence for a science teacher.


Six Haines high school students were selected to sing in the All State Music Festival choir, which takes place in Anchorage in late November. About 950 students statewide try out for the choir, and 130 make it through. School Board President Anne Marie Palmieri’s son was selected as an alternate for the choir, which means he could join the other six students at All State.

Music Director Kristy Kissinger-Totten (middle) stands with students who plan to travel to the All State Music Festival.

Music Director Kristy Kissinger-Totten (middle) stands with students who plan to travel to the All State Music Festival.

Palmieri says she suggested music director Kristy Kissinger-Totten ask the School Board for funding help.

“The reason that I did that is because we do not pay for state travel from our activities fund,” Palmieri said.

The School District’s $125,000 activities budget pays for students’ travel to Southeast games or festivals. But for state competitions, the district provides a flat amount of just $100 per student. In this case, that puts $600 or $700 toward the more than $5,000 estimated cost for the choir students’ trip to All State.

“I just think that that really puts a hardship on the kids and the parents and on the coach or the music director,” Palmieri said. 

So far, the seven students have raised more than $4,000 with fundraising. But even though they are getting close to covering the All State trip, choir is looking at how to pay for travel to three more music events.

The School Board and superintendent agreed state events are meaningful for students.

“I think it’s important, I think it’s critically important that kids get these experiences,” said superintendent Ginger Jewell.

Most of the Board members seemed open to increasing funding for state travel. But Board member Sarah Chapell said they shouldn’t take away the responsibility of fundraising.

“I think that fundraising is an important experience and you gain something from putting your blood, sweat and tears into working your way somewhere,Chapell said.

Board member Brenda Josephson was hesitant about what kind of precedent the Board would set if they helped these students’ with state travel.

“With the hard choices that we’re making right now, it’s hard for me to understand why we would change this at this point,” Josephson said. “And it’s hard to say no. It’s really hard to say no.

So, the board said “yes.” In addition to the $100 per student, board member Sara Swinton proposed the school district pay a one-to-one match to the team’s fundraising up to a max of $2,000.

That proposal passed unanimously.

That means, if a group were to raise $1,000, they would get $1,000. If they were to raise $5,000, they would get the max of $2,000. If they didn’t fundraise at all, they would just get the $100 per student.

So, these six or seven students will get $2,000 more to help with their travel to All State. Some of the money they’ve fundraised already will go toward travel to other events.

“I think this will benefit everything that’s happening in the school,” said Music Director Kristy Kissinger-Totten. “We have a lot of remarkable kids and we have a generous community and I think that it puts that together really well and we’ll continue to excel.

School District Administrative Assistant Ashley Sage says money for state travel will come out of the School District’s general fund, not the activities fund. Sage says School Board will have to work that into the budget at upcoming meetings.

Science teacher Mark Fontenot.

Science teacher Mark Fontenot.

The School Board also approved a year-long leave of absence for High School science teacher Mark Fontenot.

Fontenot has taught at the Haines School for more than 20 years. In a letter to the School Board, he says he wants to take an unpaid year off to travel with his wife and son. Fontenot says he’s not “burned out,” but that he’s ready for a hiatus. He asked the Board to grant him a year off with the promise that he will have a job to return to.

“I need to do this leave, I need to leave, I’ll leave regardless,” Fontenot told the School Board. “But I’m really…I’m not done here. I don’t feel done here, I’d love to come back and teach more. I don’t feel I’m finished with my teaching career.

Superintendent Jewell said she’s concerned about the district being able to attract a talented teacher to fill in for Fontenot for a one-year job.

“I think it would be very disruptive to the educational process for our kiddos,” she said.

But the School Board members were in favor of approving Fontenot’s request. A few said they want Mr. Fontenot to teach their children, and they would rather lose him for a year than lose him forever.

The Board also set a meeting on November 12th at 7 p.m. to talk about the school district’s homeschool program. The public is invited to attend.