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by Mike Harpold


May 07, 2005

There is nothing different about the extracurricular activities Ketchikan High School and Middle School students participate in than those found in any other community, or from the activities most of us participated in when we were in high school. They run the gamut from basketball, baseball, soccer and football, to band, choir, debate and academic decathlon with a dozen more sandwiched in between. They help our kids develop physically, mentally and socially, and they show others the best in our community. But in Ketchikan there is a difference.

When I was a high school student, as most of us not from Ketchikan can relate, my teammates and I crawled aboard a big yellow school bus for the trip to the next town and the game that evening, to be followed by the long sleepy bus ride back home. One of the coaches drove the bus, and it cost the school five bucks for gas. In Ketchikan we can't do that. Living on an island and a long way from our neighbors means that travel to school events is a costly and time consuming matter, and that sets us apart from most other communities in the state and across the nation.

It is not easy to tally the dollar cost for the youth of our community to participate in inter-school athletic and academic events. An educated guess would put the figure in excess of $600,000 annually. The school district spends over $300,000 annually, which includes coaches stipends, uniforms and equipment, but only partially pays the cost of travel. This year travel, restricted to Region 5, (Southeast) and Northern B.C. only, was paid at $157 per student per trip. Figure that when the group rate for a round trip ticket to Juneau is $220. Travel to Anchorage or the lower forty-eight is not paid by the schools.

Ketchikan is fortunate that each activity is backed by an active parent booster club. Were it not for the fund raising efforts of parents and team members that make up the difference, teams simply could not travel. Participating student scholars and athletes also pay student activity fees that help defray the school's portion of the expenses: one hundred dollars for the first activity, $50 for each additional activity with a cap of $250 per student or $400 per family.

The Juneau Assembly provides $200,000 outside of regular education funding to help defray the cost of student travel for Juneau students. Sitka last year provided $121,000. Juneau and Sitka, like Ketchikan, are isolated and students must travel by air or ferry in order to compete with other schools. Beginning in 2000, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly for three years gave the Ketchikan School District $250,000 for student activities. In 2004, the Assembly reduced the amount to $140,000. Last year they funded nothing. This year the school district is asking the Assembly to fund $350,000 above the school operating budget for student activities. It is a reasonable request.

Ketchikan is not unique among schools across the sate in that it is the only one that faces substantial costs for its' students to be able to compete with other schools. But let's not be the only community that does nothing about it. Let's recognize that student travel is part of the cost of living on an island. Let's not back away from the challenge, whining that we can't do it. Is that the example we want to set for our youth? Let's step up to the plate, be proud of our students, and do our part.

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly will begin deliberating the school district budget Monday evening at 5:30pm in the City Council Chambers.


Mike Harpold
Ketchikan, AK - USA


Note: Mike Harpold is a member of the Ketchikan School Board.



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