Sitnews - Stories In The News - Ketchikan, Alaska - Opinions


Candidates' Forum
Responses to Readers' Questions
Last updated 09/16/03

Mike Harpold
Candidate For the Ketchikan School Board
3 year term ( 3 seats open)
About Mike Harpold


First Published: Tuesday
September 16, 2003
Last updated: 10/03/03 - 11:15 pm

Mike Harpold

Mike Harpold
507 Pittinger Avenue
Ketchikan, AK 99901
phone: 225-1315

Reader's Question #1 - I, along with several hundred (at last count, about 600) parents, home school or send our children to private schools. I do not object to having my tax dollars go to funding public education. However, I have a difficult time swallowing when public tax dollars are used to fund activities or items that are outside of classroom instruction or for the up keep of buildings. Recently, some members of the current school board (along with some teachers) laid the blame on the Assembly for the lack of paper towels in their classrooms. (did anyone think of asking each student to bring a roll of paper towels to school with them?) My question is this, if you are elected or re-elected to the school board what are your priorities for funding in the budget? And, what if anything can be done to improve relationships between the School board and the Assembly? (09/15/03)

check Response to question #1 - Published 09/16/03

No budget in Ketchikan gets greater scrutiny than the school district budget. Before it is enacted by the school board, it is the subject of public hearings by the school board and is reviewed in detail at a joint assembly/school board work session. After it is passed by the school board, it is considered at a special meeting of the assembly and is the subject of another public hearing. After it is passed by the assembly, it is reviewed by the state Department of Education. School district finances are audited annually by an independent auditor and the state. Three years ago, the borough appointed a citizens panel to conduct an independent review of school district finances.

The school district has experienced declining enrollment for each of the past seven years; that means that each year the amount of money received from the borough and the state is less, and the budget has to be scrutinized for even more cuts. After seven years of cuts, the school budget is pretty much sinew and bone. This year, after the borough cut $500,000 in order to balance it's own budget for a second year in a row, the school board was faced with the prospect of having to cut elementary music, physical education and library. Instead, the board chose to cut over $280,000 out of maintenance.

This is a long-winded explanation for why kids (and teachers) have been asked to bring paper towels to their classrooms. Yes, it is the result receiving less money from the borough, and classrooms are short paper towels rather than teachers because the board felt that it was more important that our children get music, P.E. and library.

The board's decision not to cut education programs to children reflects my views on the matter. We also decided to bring social workers back into elementary school classrooms, a decision I also support. A kid doesn't learn very well if he or she is pre-occupied with problems at home. Social workers have proven helpful in the past, and they cope with situations that otherwise would take up the time of the classroom teacher.

Earlier this year, at the school board's request, a joint borough assembly/school board liaison committee was re-activated. Two assembly members and two school board members meet monthly to seek solutions to problems. At the assembly's request, the school board reactivated a joint facilities planning committee. It also now meets regularly. A school board member, usually Board President Choc Schafer, attends every regularly scheduled borough assembly meeting. As a regular part of the agenda, she reports on the latest developments affecting schools and responds to questions. I played a part in initiating these joint meetings, and I will continue to support and participate in them.


Reader's question #2. When is the Ketchikan School Board going to stop these endless requests for "helping hands" from Ketchikan taxpayers long after the budget has been passed?

When is the Ketchikan School board going to start developing some budget discipline and start working within the limits of approved budgets? (09/18/03)

check Response to question #2 - Published 09/19/03

If you are looking for a school board member who won't advocate for more money for education then I am not your guy. If it is property taxes you are concerned about, it may interest you to know that fewer of your tax dollars are going to education today than five years ago, or even one year ago. If the board's approach to the city council for student activities funding, after having been turned down by the borough assembly, is your concern, then you should know that the $24,000 grant the council approved is coming out of KPU reserves. What's the difference, you might ask? Well, not much I suppose, but each year KPU budgets about $90,000 to "community promotion," i.e., grants to non-profit organizations. Why shouldn't our student athletes and scholars be beneficiaries?

Nor are we limiting our search for funding to government bodies. The school district has also applied to the North West Cruise Ship Association for a $25,000 grant for student activities. Other private donations have also been received.

The school district does live within it's budget. It must. Unlike school districts in other states, we have no independent tax powers. Unlike the borough and the city, we have no reserves to dip into. We live on the money given us by the state, the borough and grants we qualify for from the federal government.


Reader's question #3. (10/02/03 - 10:20 pm)

For over a decade there has been a huge problem with the drop out rate here in Ketchikan. Over the years many candidates for school board always express a concern but nothing ever gets done after they are elected to really address the problem. Over in Craig, Alaska, they have started a pilot project to address the drop out rate. It is designed to reach the kids who have already dropped out, draw them back into an educational setting and to keep other kids who may be considering dropping out in an educational setting. Furthermore, P.A.C.E. which is a charter school part of the Craig School District, has managed to attract so many students that enrollment this year was cut off at 600 with the other students being referred to other charter schools similar to P.A.C.E.

If elected to the school board would you consider this district entering an agreement with the P.A.C.E. program like other districts have and would you as a board member consider looking into the pilot program that Craig has started this year ?

check Response to question #3 - Published 10/03/03 - 11:15 pm

Yes, the drop-out rate has been discussed for a number of years, and it has been a board goal, and to date little has been accomplished. I was appointed to the board last December, (I served previously in the mid-90's) and since my return we have made understanding and acting on the drop-out issue an action item in our strategic planning process. I chair that sub-committee. I hope to have some measures adopted in our '04-'05 budget.

I am not familiar with the Craig program, but the Ketchikan School District also has a correspondence program with a similar goal, keeping kids in an educational setting. However, the progression of a kid on the way out is typically Kayhi to Revilla to Correspondence and then out. From what I know about the problem so far, if we are to help an at risk kid stay in school, we need to address the problems he or she is having in the regular school setting before the kid moves on to correspondence.

Home schooling is a wonderful experience that works well for many families and often produces excellent educational results. However, it is not for everyone and parents need to consider the pros and cons carefully. The Ketchikan school district has excellent schools with superb teaching staffs. The district's two charter schools, Ketchikan Charter School offering a "core knowledge" curriculum, and Tongas School of Arts and Sciences featuring thematic based instruction enable the school district to offer a variety of instructional methods. All schools heavily emphasize parental involvement.

I am not familiar with the agreement you refer to, but I will look at Craig's drop-out prevention program.


Reader's question #4. (10/02/03 - 10:20 pm)

If part of the problem with students dropping out or students choosing other educational options has to do with district policies, would you as a board member try to effect some changes ?

check Response to question #4 - Published 10/03/03 - 11:15 pm


Reader's question #5. (10/02/03 - 10:20 pm)

Why hasn't Ketchikan considered having a charter school that would address the drop out rate instead of having two elementary charter schools ?

check Response to question #5 - Published 10/03/03 - 11:15 pm

Teachers and social workers tell me that by the fourth grade they can predict whether or not a child will drop out in his or her middle or high school years. I am very pleased that the board, despite the loss of one million dollars in revenue over the last two years chose to emphasize, rather than cut, elementary education. Charter schools, by expanding the variety of instructional settings and methods available to families helps keep kids and their parents engaged. Revilla, which serves middle school as well as high school students, serves a similar function. We have the framework, but we're doing little to track and meet the needs of at risk students. Budget cuts over the years have dramatically reduced Voc/Tech offerings and not allowed us to keep up with changing needs in this area. How about a charter voc/tech school?


Reader's question #6. (10/02/03 - 10:20 pm)

What as a board member are you willing to do to stop some of "labeling" done by teachers on students who they deem to be "problems"? Do you think this has something to do with the high drop out rate in this district?

check Response to question #6 - Published 10/03/03 - 11:15 pm

Labeling shouldn't occur. If it does routinely or in specific instances please tell me.


Reader's question #7. (10/02/03 - 10:20 pm)

The community of Ketchikan has a huge number of wonderful sports programs such as the Ketchikan Dribblers League, Little League baseball, the Ketchikan Youth Soccer League, bowling leagues, a running club to name but a few. Ketchikan also has many opportunites available to students interested in art or music that are not part of the school district. Wouldn't it be cheaper for this district to pay in full or part of the fees for students to take part in these activites instead of using educational dollars out of a school budget that is already streched to the max?

check Response to question #7 - Published 10/03/03 - 11:15 pm

Student activities, whether it be basketball, band or debate, need to be incorporated into a child's education. I can't envision a school where these activities would not be offered. In many instances such as band and debate they are part of instruction. Because so many academic courses are required for graduation these days there has been little room in most kid's schedules for Physical Education. School sponsored athletic activities help fill this need. Yes, many of these activities are available commercially or through clubs such as Killer Whales and KYSL. But club teams lack the element of interschool competition and depend for their existence on the energy and financial support of parents. My daughters participate in club sports because we can afford it. Not every family can. Whether the schools provide the activity or pay a fee to someone else to provide the activity you're still talking money. Athletic and academic activities need to be offered through the schools at the lowest cost possible to individual families.



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Ketchikan, Alaska