February 10, 2012 • Vol. XXXV, No. 2
Video Game Changers
Robotics team captain Denver Evans, second from left, explains via a video link to a judge in Fairbanks how their robot was programmed to perform missions. The robot and the team took second. See link to story and more photos below.
Photo by Jeff Brady
School loses high school teacher with adoption of FY13 budget
Food services program cut by $50,554
By KATIE EMMETS
After a 4-1 vote in a Jan. 31 school board meeting, the Skagway School will be combining the high school science and math teaching positions and cutting a teacher in order to make up a $59,016 deficit in its operating budget.
With 63 students, five more than this year’s decades-low 58 students, the Skagway School will be asking for $1,131,136 from the Municipality of Skagway for its 2012-2013 operating budget and $376,377 for funding programs like music, activities, food service and pre-school outside the cap.
The public’s side of the Skagway School library was filled with parents and students who came to the Tuesday night meeting to voice their concerns about cutting a teacher from the high school program.
Dan Cook, a parent of a Skagway High School student, said he thinks having one faculty member teaching both science and math would put a burden on the teacher that may result in a sub par education for students.
“I don’t believe either one will be taught to its full potential, and the teacher won’t have the time to focus on both subjects,” Cook said. “With only 13 students in the high school, my daughter is getting a private education. That is going out the window.”
Cook suggested the board cut the funding for other programs that wouldn’t have an effect on education, such as sports.
“We don’t have the students, but the ones we do have, we should train them well,” he said.
His daughter, Jade Cook, also spoke out in opposition of the proposed cut.
Jade is in eleventh grade, which, she said, is the year high school students start preparing for college. Without a science teacher, Jade is nervous students won’t get the science class options they need to produce strong transcripts to present to colleges.
“Science is a core subject and it needs to be taught as such,” she said.
Kathy Wassman, parent of two Skagway School students, said cutting a teacher could jeopardize the integrity of the school and that she didn’t think all the options had been looked at.
In order to save the nearly $60,000 and keep the science teaching position, board member Cara Cosgrove came up with some options of her own.
The first would be to take an elementary teacher and split her time between the elementary school and the pre-school so one half of the teacher’s salary would come from the state-funded operating budget and the other half would come from outside the cap funding, leaving more money in the operating budget.
The other option Cosgrove had in mind was to cut or drastically reduce the maintenance and cleaning services within Skagway School.
The school has two contracts with two separate cleaning companies. The Tidy Foursome, which comes in on a daily basis clean up; and Alaska Rugs, which comes in once a year to deep clean rugs and wash the walls. Their contracts total $50,000.
Neither of her options was adopted in the final version of the budget.
Superintendent Jeff Thielbar addressed the public’s questions and said the same amount of science courses would be available to high school students, but they might only be offered during certain years, so it might take a little more planning.
Thielbar also assured the public that the tenured math teacher who would be asked to take on the combined position would be accredited in science before school starts in August.
Board member Darren Belisle said the board has been putting off making this cut for a while, but that they all knew it was inevitable.
“I’ve been dreading this,” he said.
“If the budget was passed with a high school teaching position cut, it was not a cut that was taken lightly,” he said.
He said his two children are directly affected by the proposed cut.
“I’m tied here, and I don’t have the opportunity to take them somewhere else,” he said. “Do I think they can do it? Yes. Will it be a little harder? Yes. Will our kids rise to the challenge like they always have? Yes.”
Superintendent Jeff Thielbar said because the science teacher position’s contract ends this year with a resignation, it would be the perfect time to eliminate the position. If the position were cut now, it would not result in a reduction of force, which would look bad on the school, he added.
Board member Stuart Brown reminded the board and the public that Skagway School had a reduction in force a few years ago when the school combined the history and English teaching positions, adding that students don’t appear to be suffering in either subject.
Originally, Brown was an advocate of saving the high school position, but after the second budget work session, he realized it wasn’t feasible.
“I really don’t like the idea of combining subjects,” he said. “But I’m a realist and a business person, and I understand that cuts have to be made.”
Something that Brown did attempt to change, however, was the amount of money the school spends on the lunch program.
This year, Skagway School spent $909,152 on its food service program which, when calculated equates to $55 per hour, eight hours a day, five days a week, Brown said.
Brown suggested the lunch employee could do the same job in four hours a day, but the board agreed on a 5.5-hour workday, reducing the food services program by $50,554.
After two and a half hours the board voted to adopt the budget without the science teacher position and the amended food service budget, 4-1, with Cosgrove voting no.
The budget now goes to the municipality for approval.
White Pass responds, now wants MOS
to purchase floating dock
Borough carefully weighs response
By JEFF BRADY
Responding to a request from the municipality for a new list of major terms it would want in order to surrender the western portion of the tidelands lease, White Pass & Yukon Route president Eugene Hretzay wrote recently that the company wants an agreement that would give them the Broadway Dock lease and control of cruise operations and vessel berthage priority at the Ore Dock until 2063.
Then, in a new demand, Hretzay wrote that it would want the Municipality of Skagway to purchase the floating dock addition to the Ore Dock that it has permits to build. White Pass had previously said it will build that $2.5 million facility this fall, in order to accept larger cruise ships next year, as its contribution to the overall Gateway Project. But now it wants to be paid back by the municipality.
Other items include having the municipality compensate the company for lost income from the so-called Terminal Lease Tract that includes several subleases, and indemnifying the company from any liability as a result of dredging of the tidelands for fill for improved facilities at the Ore Dock.
The municipality has $10 million from the state and another $5 million in voter-approved bonding for the Gateway Project dock improvements.
The current tidelands lease with White Pass expires in 2023.
Any agreement would have to be approved by the board of White Pass’s parent company, ClubLink Enterprises, and Wells Fargo bank, Hretzay wrote. He added that White Pass would meet the assembly “any time, any where” but that ClubLink CEO Rai Sahi preferred that the borough negotiate directly with Hretzay.
Mayor Stan Selmer and the assembly have been tight-lipped about the direction of negotiations in recent weeks, and didn’t release the Jan. 17 letter until after an executive session on Feb. 2. It met again on Tuesday in closed session for more than an hour to finalize its response, but then said it needed its attorney to review the letter before it could be released.
Selmer did say that borough code will require a vote of the people for any lease agreement that exceeds $250,000 in value, or any lease extension up to 35 years. A separate vote could be taken on the White Pass changes, as well as on any lease agreement that the borough reaches with the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority for the ore terminal beyond 2018.
One thing the assembly did act on in public session, however, was add $2.5 million to a request from the Legislature for Cruise Vessel Passenger tax funds in the next budget. That’s the estimated cost of the floating dock.
Selmer and others reported on a recent trip by municipal officials to the Mineral Roundup conference in Vancouver. They met with representatives of four new Yukon mines that want to come to Skagway, starting as early as 2015. Tonnages range from 120,000 tons a year from Chieftain, which is taking over the old Tulsequah site near Atlin, to 600,000 or more a year from Selwyn-Chihong.
SCHOOL FEATURE: Second in state robotics, while performing at home
New local fund to help with arts, education
By KATIE EMMETS
The creation of the Margaret Frans Brady Fund has sparked an initial pledge of $100,000 for arts and education in the Skagway community.
Skagway publisher Jeff Brady started this fund in the name of his mother, and it will be run out of the Juneau Community Foundation.
Two of the first recipients of grants from the MFB Fund will likely be Skagway’s outdoor arts facility project in the amount of $50,000 and the Skagway School in the amount of $50,000 over a five-year period for a creative arts program. Brady recently wrote them about the funding opportunity ahead as they enter the budget cycle. Both were encouraged to apply for the grants.
Brady said the idea for the fund came about while he was writing his mother’s obituary for the Hickory Daily Record, her hometown North Carolina newspaper, after her death two years ago.
“I think she would have been thrilled,” he said.
Brady said his mother was always a big proponent of education and the arts.
“She played basketball and participated in various clubs, all while getting straight A's,” Brady wrote in the obituary. “She was valedictorian of the Hickory High School Class of 1943. Back then, children in N.C. had 11 years of primary and secondary schooling, and Margaret's graduation address heralded the need for a 12th year of preparation, which occurred within a few years.”
She then went on to Duke University as an English major and was a drama student and involved in the student magazine.
After marrying her high school sweetheart, UNC rival Bill Brady, and having children of her own, Margaret started a Dyslexia Foundation in Hickory and was a firm believer that every kid should be able to receive a good education.
Brady said his mother was always supportive of her children’s writing, reading, performances, and art, and she was always taking them to plays and concerts.
“She even drove me to Charlotte to see the Allman Brothers when I was 15,” Brady said with a laugh.
She also backed his dream of starting a newspaper in Alaska in 1978, and was a frequent visitor to Skagway before her health declined.
The late Margaret Frans Brady
Brady said he started planning for the fund with the Juneau Community Foundation about a year ago.
“A donor-advised fund through the Juneau Community Foundation was the best fit for what we wanted to do,” Brady said.
Because it is donor-advised, Brady said he, along with his wife Dorothy and daughter Annie, would have a say in which projects and programs are awarded grants from the fund.
“I thought that creating this fund in my mother’s name would be a really good thing to do because I would be inheriting a lot and she always gave,” he said.
After talking to people involved with the Rasmuson Foundation, an estate attorney, and his financial planner, he realized that a community foundation, which is a collection of managed smaller funds, would be best for what he wanted to do, Brady said.
Since its creation six years ago, the Juneau Community Foundation has awarded more than $550,000 in grants. One of its board members is former Skagway mayor Sioux Plummer Douglas, and she also assisted in helping set up the fund, Brady said, adding that JCF was happy to branch out to other communities.
In order to apply for funding, organizations must be non-profit and the money has to be for a program or project that will enhance arts and education in northern Southeast Alaska.
Though Brady doesn’t want to restrict the fund to Skagway, the first few grants will probably stay within the community. There also will be some sort of scholarship program.
“I wanted to contribute on a local level because there is a really vibrant artist community here,” he said.
Brady said that most future projects wouldn’t get the amount of funding the school and outdoor arts facility will receive.
“I wanted a little bit of a bang right off the bat,” he said. “I wanted to do something big in the beginning.”
Because there is already a part-time music program in the school funded by the municipality, the grant from the MFB Fund would cover other creative arts like drama and painting.
“This way, they can hire artists to come teach the kids and get a drama program going again,” Brady said. “It will probably be challenging with so few kids, but at least it will be an option.”
The school’s funding will come in the form of $10,000 grants to the program for the next five years, but the district has to apply for it.
The $50,000 the municipality could receive would come from the same short-term fund, and could be split over two years, he said.
Brady said it was a coincidence that plans for the outdoor arts facility were starting just as he was wrapping up plans for the MFB Fund.
“I attended a couple meetings to see what it was all about,” he said, adding that he is pleased to see the progress it has made.
“I mainly wanted to do this because all over the country now, the arts are under-funded,” he said.
Coupled with the economic state of the nation, it makes for a rough future for the arts.
“The government isn’t always going to be able to lend a hand like they usually do, and arts programs are going to rely heavily on private donations,” he said. “If an artistic spark comes along, you don’t want to snuff it because you can’t afford to take an art class or go to a performing arts camp. I’m helping because I can.”
Application forms for grants from the Brady fund will be available on the JCF website, www.juneaucf.org , on March 1. There will likely be two grant cycles per year for small projects and scholarships, he said.
MESSAGE DELIVERED – Zoe Wassman wears a thumb ring that says ‘Texting Kills’ during a student council workshop about various social issus. The students were showing support for no texting while driving. - Katie Emmets
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)
AEA changes decision, adds West Creek to list of possible projects to receive funding
Almost two months after denying the funding of a West Creek hydro study, the Alaska Energy Authority overturned its decision.
On Feb. 6, the municipality received an e-mail from AEA saying the municipality’s appeal was taken into consideration, and the project was approved for a grant, but it will only receive the money if the program gets more funding from the Legislature.
AEA was budgeted $25,164,000 to distribute for projects it saw fit, and out of the 97 project funding applications it received, it chose only 19 of them to be placed in the first tier to receive the money.
There are 22 projects that were placed in the second tier, the West Creek hydro feasibility study being one of them.
In order for the 22 projects to receive any funding from the grant program, the AEA must receive about $18 million in addition to the current funds on hand from this year’s legislative session.
If the second tier were funded, the municipality would be awarded a $236,000 grant to start looking at the logistics of creating a hydro project in the West Creek area.
On Dec. 27, the municipality sent a letter to Shawn Calfa, AEA grant administrator.
The letter stated three main points for appealing the decision.
In their denial, AEA said they had already committed funding for Connelly Lake, Schubee Lake and Burro Creek, other proposed hydro projects.
The first point in the appeal stated that West Creek’s main function would be to provide power to cruise ships when they are in port.
“All three of these projects are private sector projects and are not large enough in size to provide power to the Municipality of Skagway’s target market of 3-4 cruise ships at port in Skagway or Haines,” the letter stated. “The local utility would build either Connelly Lake or Schubee Lake, not both, and Burro Creek will not be a storage project. Thus (they) will not solve any over-winter shortages.”
The letter goes on to add that the West Creek hydro project would have excess winter energy for both the Upper Lynn Canal and the Yukon Territory.
The second point of the appeal challenged a denial point that powering cruise ships with hydroelectricity would not be beneficial to the public.
“We disagree with the AEA’s questioning the public benefit to be received versus the high capital cost, high technical business and regulatory risks of the proposed project,” the letter stated, adding that by powering the ships with West Creek hydro, Skagway would greatly reduce its pollution in the valley.
The last point AEA made in denying funds for West Creek was the permit difficulty the municipality would encounter with Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.
The appeal letter states that there have been three hydro projects constructed within the boundaries of the park in the last 13 years, and there are no significant permitting risks as stated in the denial letter.
“[Municipality of Skagway] isn’t sure whether AEA has consulted with [the park] during your review of you application or if this is just being added as preponderance,” the letter stated.
If the feasibility study does not receive funding this year, Selmer said, he is hopeful it will get it next year now that the AEA has changed its decision. – KE
Police Department to get funds for 9-1-1-dispatch position
The assembly voted unanimously to amend the FY12 budget to include money for a full time 911 dispatch position after a full explanation from former mayor Tom Cochran.
During the first reading of Ordinance 12-01, the assembly had questions as to why the 9-1-1 calling system couldn’t be updated to accommodate calls and not have to hire a dispatcher.
As an AP&T employee, Cochran told the assembly that technology is hindering the safety of Skagway residents rather than helping.
In the past few months, Cochran said, there were two 9-1-1 calls that were emergencies that did not get through to the Skagway emergency call line. One was a fire call and one was a man having a stroke.
Cochran said a lot of calls made from cell phones were getting rerouted to Hoonah, therefore making any technology upgrades worthless.
“You could get an E911 switch (enhanced 911 switch), which would probably cost you millions of dollars, but you’d still have to have a full-time dispatching manager,” Cochran said. “That’s the bottom line. That’s how they do it down south. They have full-time dispatching centers.”
Cochran said AP&T could guarantee 100 percent that if a 9-1-1 call was made on a land line, it would get through, but if it were made on a cell phone the company could not guarantee it.
Another change in the 9-1-1 calling system is the amount of people who can answer an incoming emergency call.
With the new system, Cochran said, when the phones ring at the officers’ homes, the first officer to answer the call is the only officer who can answer the call.
“It was just like if you had multiple phones in your house, you could pick one in the bedroom and someone could pick up one in the building, everyone could hear each other,” Cochran said. “That is the only difference. It’s not as good as what we had, but the service is there and it works.”
Because of this, a dispatcher would be needed to assess the situation and relay the information to several officers if needed, rather than the officer answering the call not being able to respond as soon as possible because he or she might have to call for back up and explain information to other officers.
Cochran said that even if the new 9-1-1 system were fixed, and multiple officers could answer at the same time, the cell phone issue would still be the biggest problem.
John Tronrud said after two 9-1-1 cell phone calls not getting through, he sees the need for a dispatch position, no matter the cost.
“If we have someone get hurt and die, the municipality would be liable if the system doesn’t work,” Tronrud said. “I don’t like to go off budget myself, but this is something that needs to be in place.”
As an idea to save money on the position, Tronrud made a suggestion that the assembly might look into having a joint dispatch center with Haines because of the low 9-1-1 call frequency.
Tim Bourcy said he is not a fan of budget amendments, and he encouraged the assembly to table the ordinance and send it to a work session.
The assemblymen agreed that having a 9-1-1 dispatcher was a necessity.
“I support it because we have become accustomed to someone answering right away,” said Assemblyman Dave Hunz.
Assemblyman Dan Henry said the way he sees it, the assembly doesn’t have the choice of passing it or not.
The ordinance passed with a 5-0 vote, and $39,760 will be added to the Skagway Police Department’s budget to accommodate this new position. – KE