BREAKING TRAIl, MAKING TRACKS

Buckwheat Donahue and Mark Saldi head out on snow machines to place signs on the Log Cabin trails. See story in features below on the Log Cabin Ski Scene. AC

Music program eliminated by School Board
Reduction in Force implemented to deal with looming deficit for 2004-05

By JEFF BRADY
The prospect of a $271,000 deficit for the next school year has driven the Skagway School Board to implement a Reduction in Force policy and cut the music program and its tenured teacher.
The board made its decision at a special meeting following a budget work session on Tuesday night. By law, any RIF notice had to be issued by March 15, and it applies to the music program under instructor Barry Beckett. If the district is able to come up with funds to keep the position, then he would be re-hired.
The anticipated deficit first came to light at a special meeting of the board a week earlier on March 3, in which Superintendent Michael Dickens outlined this budget scenario with a projected 102 students next year:
• State foundation formula reduction of $49,000 (if the Legislature does not increase the per student allocation - see sidebar on page 9).
• Subsequent city cap reduction of $13,000.
• Grants drying up: $61,000.
• Increased expenses (negotiated wages, increases in benefits and insurance): $148,000.
That adds up to a big hit on what was a $1.66 million budget, Dickens noted.
He proposed cutting the music program for a savings of about $96,000. Other options were to not fill an elementary position if a teacher retires, or eliminate an elementary position and a maintenance position. He also suggested approaching the city about an additional contribution for student activities, which currently are budgeted at $110,000.
About 30 parents and teachers were in attendance at the March 3 meeting, and the board heard many pleas to save the music program or cut other programs equally.
Music teacher Barry Beckett, who was tenured last year, spoke first on the importance of having music in schools.
“Music isn’t really fluff at all,” Beckett said. “A school without music is not going to be a healthy environment for your students.”
He cited statistics from a music educators Website which showed music students have higher grade point averages, develop faster, score higher on SAT and other tests, have better self esteem, and are better listeners, more disciplined, and better readers.
Beckett also brought up the fact that the music program recently received a $20,000 donation for new instruments and an electronic keyboarding program from PIMCO, and said those instruments can’t just sit around.
“For your kids’ sake you need to find a way to keep music in the school,” he concluded.

FINAL PERFORMANCE? - Barry Beckett leads the pep band during last week’s basketball games. JB

Other teachers stressed the importance of music, but added that the board had a difficult decision to make.
Elementary teacher Vivian Meyer said music would not disappear if the program were cut next year. Kids will keep singing, and many will continue taking private lessons.
But students at the meeting said kids who are not in sports look to music in high school as their main activity. Eighth grader Cody Burnham said he has learned to play five instruments.
“It would be a shame to get rid of all these new instruments,” he said. “The people who provided the instruments would be disappointed.”
Student board member Jason O’Daniel said he stopped playing sports after junior high, and music was his release. He said his dad wished there had been a music program here when he was in high school.
“I have a 33-year-old son who could not read today if he didn’t learn how to play the violin,” added English teacher Deborah Hansen.
Many parents wanted the board to look at other areas to cut.
Colette Hisman, a former city council member, said budget time can be very stressful and requires tough decisions and being fair.
“If the music is being affected this adversely and sports did not take an equal hit, I would be offended,” she said. “Please try to be fair and go across the board.”
Current City Council member Monica Carlson also urged members to look at all areas for cuts before coming to the city.
Others suggested cutting the lunch or breakfast programs, which are funded by a separate $68,000 grant from the city, to free up that money to support activities.
Hansen, who has turned in her resignation for next year, suggested not replacing her position, and having the middle school teacher teach English next year. But Dickens said that may not be possible. Under the new No Child Left Behind Act rules, especially in high school, teachers will be required to have 30 credit hours in their subject area, he said. And middle school teacher Jo Trozzo would have to get a high school certificate.
Laura Downey and others suggested having parents pay for pre-school, as they did a decade ago, or cut the program to three days a week and combine the three- and four-year-olds.
Cindy O’Daniel cautioned that if the board cuts both music and sports, it will play into parents’ decisions to keep their kids here.
Dickens said the low enrollment could last a few years. By the time the district takes its pupil count during the state-mandated period in October, all of the seasonal students are gone. So far, he has been unsuccessful in efforts to get a waiver from the Department of Education to have the count in September
And bills in the Legislature to increase the per pupil funding formula can’t be guaranteed before budgets have to be turned in, Dickens said. The city requires the school budget April 1, a month earlier than most districts, he noted.
Board member Chris Maggio said they have looked at several scenarios for making cuts, including many brought up by the public.
“I don’t want to lose the music program either,” member Joanne Korsmo said. “It affects us all .... We are looking at ideas to meet our budget requirements. That’s why you guys are here. We need help.”
A week later on March 9, the board took its first look at the 2004-05 budget in work session. Dickens said that business manager Kathy Pierce and he had gone through and made cuts in many areas. He noted that Beckett, who also serves as activities director, initially had submitted a $171,000 activities budget, but had scaled it back to $126,000, and that figure could be presented to the city to balance the budget. It would keep intact all current extracurricular sports and activities.
However, the city also would be asked to continue separate contributions to the fish hatchery ($12,000), food service ($67,000), technology improvement ($30,000), and capital fund ($26,000 for a new water heater).
Korsmo said she had received calls from parents about the meals program, particularly the breakfast portion, and whether it was necessary. But member Julene Fairbanks said the lunch program should be kept, as it leverages other dollars for the district, such as a 70 percent discount in “e-rates” for computer Internet use.
“That saves thousands of dollars for the school,” Fairbanks said.
The board then moved into the special meeting dealing with the RIF, with the district’s attorney listening in by teleconference.
Dickens read the legal document for the Reduction In Force Plan which eliminated the music program and any certificated teachers in that program based on seniority. That only applied to the one teacher, he noted.
In addition, it included this language regarding how the position might be reinstated:
“The District shall recall any tenured staff affected by this reduction in force by recalling them under the statutory hiring preference if and when, in the course of the next three years, the Board determines that changed financial circumstances make it economically and educationally responsible to reinstate the music program and the recalled teacher is qualified to assume that position. The Board may, in its discretion, offer part-time positions if the District’s financial status improves, but not to the extent necessary to reinstate the entire program, provided, however, that the refusal of a teacher to accept a part-time offer shall not terminate a laid-off teacher’s hiring preference.”

Superintendent Michael Dickens outlines the budget options confronting the board as Board President Chris Ellis listens. JB

The library was packed again, and testimony was divided between those who wanted to keep the music program, those who wanted the elementary program kept intact, and those who said they would support whatever decision the board made.
Beckett’s wife, Gayle, the high school math teacher, said one option would be to roll back raises that it gave to teachers and the superintendent last year to save the music program. But elementary teacher Mary McCaffrey countered that those raises were negotiated to get Skagway teachers in the “middle of the road” for statewide salaries, and that Dickens was worth his salary as well.
Parent Marj Harris said taking away the music program could handicap students who need well-rounded resumes to get into good colleges.
In an impassioned plea, eighth grader Burnham asked the board to consider what music has done for their lives, and to remember the songs from their high school days.
“Now think of all the songs the kids in school will not have if you take away the music program,” he said.
Board members were visibly moved by this testimony, but stated they had no choice with the RIF deadline of March 15 looming.
“It’s unfortunate, it’s terrible in this town to be in this kind of a budget problem,” Korsmo said.
A tearful Fairbanks added that her daughter was excited about going on a band trip to Valdez next month, and had learned to play the trumpet very well because of Mr. Beckett.
“The music program is important to us and my family, but I am on the school board and have to look at the overall effect on the school,” she said.
Darren Belisle agreed, and Board President Chris Ellis added that “it boils down to time constraints.”
“If we don’t do this RIF tonight we are locked into this budget for next year,” she added.
Ellis then made a “sincere promise” to look at a number of budget alternatives and “try to keep music in our school.”
The vote Tuesday night was 4-0 (Maggio was out of town). Dickens applauded the board members for how they dealt professionally with an emotional issue, and said thoughts of cutting people in the school had contributed to his own “gall bladder issues.”
Korsmo added that there should be a joint effort by the district and the city to keep more families in the community. Carlson urged a preliminary budget review between council and school board members as soon as possible.
Ellis said the board will have at least one more work session on the budget prior to its March 30 regular meeting, when it has to be approved for formal presentation to the city.

Dewey Lakes ‘Special Management Area’ resolution sets up advisory committee to establish new park

Park designation to wait for work by committee

By JEFF BRADY
Skagway City Council members took more than an hour to get the wording right, but on March 5 passed a resolution setting up a Dewey Lakes Trail System Special Management Area that could lead to the establishment of a city park.
As introduced in Resolution 04-04R last month, the area encompassing the geologic bench from Sturgill’s Landing to Upper Reid Falls, all the way up to the ridge line, would have been designated a city park, but Mayor Tim Bourcy said it raised questions about possible conflicts with zoning codes and the Skagway Comprehensive Plan.
“There is no perfect vehicle for creating a park,” Bourcy said, so he offered a substitute draft resolution that would create a special management area concentrating on recreational uses. An advisory committee would be set up to consider changes to the comprehensive plan, coastal zone management plan and local codes.
At the suggestion of local archaeologist Doreen Cooper, the council added language about the area’s historical significance, citing use by Tlingits and gold rush stampeders.
However, the title said the area would be recommended for designation as a park, and this concerned audience member John Tronrud and Council members David Hunz and Jay Frey.
“I want to see the rules before we make the box,” Hunz said. “So we don’t paint ourselves into the box.”
Hunz initially suggested referring the resolution to the Parks and Recreation committee, but P&R chair Mike Korsmo said his plate was full with the comprehensive trails plan and Seventh Pasture project.
“This is pretty intense,” Korsmo said, suggesting the Dewey Lakes issue go right to the new advisory committee. “It’s big enough to have some wheels of its own.”
Frey said the city should not designate the park without knowing land ownership in the area. He made a motion to change the wording throughout the resolution from a park to a special management area. Members were split on this amendment with Frey, Hunz and Monica Carlson voting for the change, and Korsmo, Michael Catsi, and Dan Henry voting against it. In a confusing exchange, the mayor referred the matter back for rewording, and Hunz moved to just have the title changed. It passed 6-1, with Korsmo casting the only nay, saying he represented the feelings of many in town who want the area to be a park.
Members also haggled over wording at the end of the resolution, choosing by a 4-2 vote to have the advisory committee work “to establish a municipal park upon municipal lands within the trail system.”
Korsmo and Henry voted against the amendment, insisting that establishing the park should be the goal, not an option. They also voted against the final resolution, which passed by the same 4-2 vote.
Mayor Bourcy continued to allay fears that the special management area or park would stop a possible Juneau Access road. He said the right of way has already been established, and designating the area for recreational use was a measure to prevent housing subdivisions or industrial development around Dewey Lakes.
He said the advisory committee would be just like the one set up a few years ago after the city acquired Dyea Flats.
“I hear no opposition to establishing a park,” Bourcy said.
Hunz, who said he supports the park concept, said he just wanted to make sure the rules and regulations drawn up by the advisory committee come back to the Council for approval.

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

Skagway Air Service pilots Dave Sandberg (left) and Mike O’Daniel take turns punching buttons and checking coordinates on the new Capstone navigation system on one of the local airline’s Piper Cherokees as they fly up Lynn Canal last month. Capstone, a government-sponsored system, has been installed on six planes to date at a cost of about $80,000 per unit, and most of the local airline’s aircraft will have the system by summer, said O’Daniel, the airline’s vice president. “It’s state of the art avionics,” O’Daniel said. “It’s kind of cool.”
Capstone was first introduced by the FAA in western Alaska a couple years ago, O’Daniel said, and the more advanced Capstone 2 is being installed on Skagway Air’s fleet to see how it works in the “real world conditions” of Southeast Alaska. Using Global Positioning System (GPS) way points, it plots courses for planes to take, and pilots can watch their progress on two screens – one is looking down from above, and the second, with a forward view, has a terrain feature. In addition to displaying air speed and altitude, it flashes warning zones over terrain if a pilot veers off course and close to a mountain. Skagway Air pilots have been trained in using the system.
“It takes knowledge of the system,” O’Daniel said. “If you get caught in bad weather, it should help you get out of it.”
Eventually, it could be set up for flying low IFR routes to Juneau, or set up for climbing out of confined area, O’Daniel added. “It’s probably the biggest improvement we’ve seen in our part of the world in 30-40 years.” – JB

OTHER STORIES

• LOG CABIN TRACKS: Happy ski trails for Skagway, Alaskans and Yukoners

• SPORTS & REC.: Etue is State Hoop Shoot champ; Lady Panthers clinch top seed; Boys win final homestand, move up to sixth

SCHOOL FEATURE: Mayo outlasts Hahn to win Spelling Bee

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