SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

October 04, 2016
Ketchikan Borough Election

Conan Matthew Steele

Candidate for the Ketchikan School Board
3 Year Term - 2 Seats Open

Filed August 25, 2016
Statement Received September 21, 2016
Published September 21, 2016

jgp Conan Matthew Steele 

Candidate for the Ketchikan School Board: 3 Year Term - 2 Seats Open

Conan Matthew Steele
Candidate for the Ketchikan School Board
3 Year Term - 2 Seats Open

(SitNews) - My name is Conan Steele, and I’ve lived in Ketchikan for 20 years now. I live with my wife Michi and my son Wolfgang. Bailey, our oldest, just started his first semester at UAA, and my stepdaughter Mollie is now a sophomore at Kayhi. When I came here all of those years ago, the plan was...actually I don’t think there was a real plan. Get a job, do something different, have some fun for a while, and go home, but certainly not stay. Originally from the flat agricultural expanses of California’s Central Valley, land with actual topography and thick forests was instantly fascinating to me. They say Alaska has a way of changing a young person’s plans; that was certainly the case for me. If I’d been told in my early teens about this wonderful place, I surely would have tried to run away soonest I could.

So here I find myself two decades after getting off of the ferry on a dark, drizzly morning in a strange place I had no intention of staying long. My time here in Ketchikan has been rich in experiences and people met. I’ve been a taxi driver, pizza cook, and fishery technician, just to name a few. Ketchikan allowed me the freedom to try things and to be something I would never have been able to be where I grew up: myself.

I’m running for School Board because I care greatly about education. Spending years before completing mine drove home the need to get a diploma and a degree to get ahead. More and more in our world, it’s not so much what you actually know what to do, it’s what you’re credentialed to do that matters most when looking for a job. I dropped out of high school and worked a series of menial jobs that were neither fulfilling nor well paying. This trend continued into my first few years in Alaska. So, I finally took the steps in my early thirties to go back to school. First I earned my general AA degree, and then went on to a BA in elementary education at University of Alaska Southeast. When I think of before and after, education has been the big difference maker in my life.

I’m also running because my son Wolfgang will be old enough to start school this year and I see the coming storm. We’ve made nominal cuts to the state budget and are burning through our reserves at breakneck speed. We’re going to get back to a government that we can afford whether we like it or not, despite the hardships that are going to go along with that painful process. Let’s not be so foolish to expect $100 per barrel oil appear on the horizon to save us all, or a gas line to be built that may or may not make the state money. We’re simply going to have to get more frugal, innovative, and judicious with our educational dollars. Some will argue that the current cuts hurt us enough, and that there isn’t anything else to cut. It’s the same at the state level. We’re not acting right now because circumstances simply aren’t forcing us to. A few years down the road when we’re dirt broke, we’ll do what we say is unthinkable and impossible now: wholesale slash the budget. When and if this happens, I want to see a school system that is prepared and able to serve the student population of Ketchikan regardless of how low the funding levels may drop. Schools I still want my son to go to. I’m very qualified to homeschool my own child, and if circumstances call for that I will, but I would prefer he go to school with the other kids. In this regard, I believe that program based budgeting, a sound strategy in normal times, may be at its effectively functional limit. I can see years coming where there’s more below the red line than above it.

My experiences in education have been varied. I worked for a number of years as a paraprofessional here in Ketchikan before moving into a year-long student teaching internship. Upon graduation I signed with Pribilof Island School District to be the HS/MS math and science teacher at St Paul School in St Paul, Alaska. It has the largest remaining population of Aleut in Alaska. I held that position in there for two years before returning to my family in Ketchikan. Although it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, it took me away from my family and beloved Ketchikan for far too long. I presently work as the testing specialist and part-time adjunct instructor at UAS Ketchikan.

I believe I would be a good choice because I am an experienced educator who knows many of the ins and outs of the teaching profession. Working those two years in St Paul gave me the opportunity to wear many hats and see a variety of angles. From organizing volunteers for a youth basketball program, to coordinating ordering, payment, and storage for the district’s Nutritional Alaska Foods in Schools grant, to serving on various committees, I know that there are innumerable details to attend to in order for a district and its schools to function properly. I also served briefly on the Ketchikan School Board in 2015, and the fact that I was taught and trained here gives me some familiarity with our local school system.

Here are what I believe should be the board and district’s top priorities:

  • Advocate for every penny we can get our hands on.
  • Be on the lookout for additional alternative funding sources (feds, grants, etc).
    • We already do a good job here, but finding other funding will be crucial as state funds dwindle.
  • Support our teachers!
    • We may not be able to afford as many of them in coming years, and the ones remaining are going to be asked to do a lot more as the crisis deepens.
    • We CANNOT cut teacher salaries or benefits if we wish to retain qualified individuals.
  • Explore further embracement of distance/blended learning models as a possible means to cut costs.
    • Reduce reliance on costly brick and mortar facilities.
  • Develop a “doomsday” plan for what looks like the approaching fiscal cliff we’re trying to back ourselves off of.
  • Reassess the program based budgeting strategy.
  • Look for and create more opportunities for the community to volunteer in and around the classroom.
    • Aggressively promote the ones that do already exist and may be under-utilized.
  • Recognize that for many, homeschooling could become a better option than a traditional brick and mortar school if staffing shortages impact quality as funding wanes.

I don’t have all of the answers, but I do have ideas and am ready to work with others to solve these tough problems that are coming our way. It won’t be easy, and it may require a departure from what has been conventional until now, but I know workable solutions do exist if we’re willing to look for them. Simply continuing with the status quo and hoping for the best is an option, just not one that’s bound to work out our way.

I would appreciate your vote on October 4th.


This is the 14th year, Sitnews has provided FREE web exposure to all local Ketchikan candidates to provide information for consideration by their constituents.

  1. Local candidates are invited by SitNews to provide for their constituents' consideration basic background information, experience and qualifications for the public office for which they seek.
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  4. Email to - Absentee voting begins September 19, 2016.


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