May 28, 2010 • Vol. XXXIII, No. 9
Celebration and Contemplation
Emotions cover the entire spectrum as members of the Class of 2010 shift their tassels and await their exit from the school stage after receiving their diplomas on May 19. See memorable quotes and photos on our Graduation 2010 page.
Photo by Jeff Brady
Assembly overrides mayor's veto of school cut
Public outcry after vote
By JEFF BRADY
In the words of Mayor Tom Cochran, it was an “emotional night” for the Skagway Borough Assembly May 20, as they witnessed the reaction from the public to their override of a mayoral veto which upheld a cut to the school’s operating budget.
It started with the mayor explaining his veto of the May 6 action by the assembly that cut the school’s cap funding by $151,780. He repeated his message that the assembly’s place to cut was in the extra funding request, not the operating budget which funds basic educational requirements. He said that message was clear at previous budget meetings with the school board.
But Assemblyman Dave Hunz said that while understanding where the mayor was coming from, “you don’t speak for me.” He said that the school board had been told that “this day would be coming down the pike” if it did not address its operations budget, and that they did not plan for it.
“The only way I do it was to tell them how to do it,” he said.
Others who voted for the original motion, Mark Schaefer, Colette Hisman and Tim Cochran, said they would be sticking by their earlier vote.
Hisman said the board was given an opportunity last year to make cuts when the assembly tapped the forest receipts fund for about $450,000. She said they told them, “We can’t afford to keep doing this.”
But Assemblyman Dan Henry said, “I vehemently disagree,” adding that there are things out of the assembly’s control like basic “educational expenses that they have to have.”
Member Paul Reichert commended the mayor on his veto.
“I think we have a great school,” he said, but the reductions would make things pretty thin and be “big, big mistake. If we take away teachers and programs we will be well below good.”
Henry, the finance chair, then explained that the borough can afford to help the school, even with reducing the sales tax revenue fund expectations to $4.9 million. In fact, he said they had enough money to restore about $57,000 in cuts that the school district had already made.
“We have the money, we just need to legislate to spend it,” Henry concluded, and the room burst into loud applause.
The mayor reiterated his stance. “In my opinion, it is punitive” to cut from the school’s operating budget, he said. But Hisman said none of those at the table were the mayor’s tools and have to “make the best judgments we can.”
The mayor said he respected everyone at the table. “It’s sometimes a thankless job,” he said, and then called for the question. The vote to override was 4-2 along the same lines as before, with Henry and Reichert voting against it.
Then the floodgates opened. Unable to address the assembly before the vote, the public let them have it.
It was standing-room-only again, and 33 people got up to talk about the school. Thirty of them said they were disappointed in the assembly, one supported the action, and two said they respected their decision. It went on for more than an hour.
Dennis Bousson said by voting to cut the operations budget, the assembly was turning the process upside down. “It’s like you just bought Twinkies but didn’t pay for the vegetables,” he said.
“Funding to the cap provides the basics of academics,” said parent Karl Klupar.
Former Mayor Tim Bourcy said the assembly was sending a bad message to the state that Skagway was not willing to fund to the cap when it can afford to.
Others were just plain disappointed in the action, accusing the assembly of not listening to the public. About 25 had spoken up for full school funding at the May 6 meeting, and many new faces showed up on the 20th, including teachers and a few students and recent graduates.
Denise Caposey illustrated what the teachers did to cut the budget that was submitted. “We went through that process and just got slapped down…” she said. “I am an advocate for my kids and I wish you would do the same.”
Loya Zalit, wife to technology teacher Andy Zalit, tearfully told how her husband had just received a pink slip that day. She said they chose to bring their three kids to Skagway and may consider staying, but that it would be hard without a job. She also worried about the overall state of the high school, as a result of the cuts. “I ask you to reconsider,” she said.
Music teacher Jon Baldwin also received notice that day. His program had already been halved by the board and could go to just 10 hours a week if the assembly cuts stick.
But Math teacher Dottie Demark said the district was now looking at 82 kids next year with a family moving back and the addition of some confirmed foreign exchange students for a semester or more. There had been 92 in the building on the day school closed, added food services manager Paul Benner. He said he would gladly pay more in property taxes to help the school, but that there was money in sales tax to take care of it.
High school junior Alexis Grieser submitted a three-page letter in support of programs and teachers. In it, she said the proposed high school schedule for next year (if the cuts remain) would offer them only the bare essentials.
“I am angry, and my opinion is shared by most, if not all, of the students,” she said.
Shelby Surdyk and Cody Burnham, who graduated last year, said they benefited from Advanced Placement courses or music that would not be offered students next year.
Dorothy Brady pleaded with the assembly to hear what people are saying.
“These are your public, you need to listen to them,” she said. “There are people here who will be leaving.”
Kay Ackerman, an SHS graduate who came back to Skagway with her family, said Skagway had an “awesome school” but even they were on the fence right now about the school situation.
“You guys have kids that have graduated from here,” she said. “I ask for the same for my kids.”
Beth Smith said that for all the talk by assembly members about cost per student, they were not factoring in the cost of living in Skagway. She said they had spent money on many “extravagant things” for the city, but were “not giving back to the community. I really can’t believe you can’t see this.”
School Board members Darren Belisle and Joanne Korsmo said they had worked hard to make cuts.
“I feel this is an attack on the school board,” he said. “But it is the kids you are hurting.”
Belisle added that they also are paid to listen to the public and have responded in the past, but that the assembly seemed to be basing its decision on the remarks of one person who spoke up for cutting the budget at the previous meeting. “To me, that person is the most powerful person in town,” he said.
On the other side, Heidi Long said she was shocked at how much teachers make in Skagway, and Blaine Mero said the district had lost 23 kids and should not be budgeting on speculation. He added that he was verbally abused after leaving the previous meeting and that he has a right to his opinion. He noted that he ”loves these kids” and had volunteered many hours in the school, but admitted losing friends over his position.
The meeting ran very late with further testimony on the shooting boundaries, and the assembly did not address the school again. After the meeting recessed to Friday night, the mayor said the issue had been the talk of the town that day.
“I think everyone at the table, the assembly and the public, need to just sleep on it for a while,” he said, noting that the budget still has to go through third reading on June 3.
To reverse the decision, it would take one of the four assembly members who overrode the veto to ask for reconsideration to get it back on the table, and two members to change their minds when it came up again for a vote.
The school board will address their budget again at its June 8 meeting. A preliminary plan, if the cuts hold, has them moving elementary teacher Vivian Meyer to technology, moving sixth grade into middle school, and several high school teachers doubling up and not having a prep period. They also may go back into negotiations for further health care cuts.
Firearms ordinance tabled for possible boundary revisions
By KATIE EMMETS
After citizens voiced their opinions at the May 20 borough assembly meeting, the assembly voted to table the second reading of the no-shooting ordinance until next session. It will be discussed and possibly amended at Thursday night’s Public Safety Committee meeting.
As it is written, passing Ordinance No. 10-07 will move the no shooting boundary from its existing spot at Reid Falls Creek (2.6 M on WP&YR) to Boulder (4.5 M), 200 ft. east of the railroad track and west in a straight line to the Klondike Highway.
The shooting of Eric and Katherine Moseley’s dog, Shae, prompted the proposed boundary move. On April 5, Skagway resident Luke Rauscher mistook the dog for a coyote and shot the dog with a 30-06 rifle just north of the existing boundary line.
Rauscher was charged with animal cruelty for shooting a domestic animal and was fined $30 plus an additional $10 in court surcharges.
Of the 23 people who addessed the assembly on this issue, 14 were in support of the boundaries being moved. Some, however, didn’t agree with the proposed boundaries and discussed compromising.
Dave Schirokaur suggested taking a closer look at the proposed boundaries and instead of using straight lines, he recommended that a geographic information system (GIS) be used to create lines that flow with the contours of the land.
“We can be creative to make a really nice looking zone that adheres to everyone’s request,” Schirokaur said.
One hundred and eleven of those opposed to the move signed a petition that was available for view at the meeting.
The petition stated, “We believe the proposed expansion of the shooting boundaries to be unnecessary for improving public safety. We also oppose new laws and regulations restricting dog owners. Proper enforcement of existing laws is all that is needed.”
Almost every resident who spoke in opposition to the proposed move agreed that the dog’s death was a tragic mistake, but most of them pointed out that Rauscher was not breaking any laws.
Keith Knorr said he thinks the move has nothing to do with safety, but with guns and hunters.
“We had an unfortunate accident where somebody’s dog got shot,” Knorr said. “But the hunter was safe. There have never been any unsafe hunters in the area; there have been no reports.”
Jan Wrentmore, who agrees with the proposed move, lived directly above the old rifle range before it was moved and said she knows what it feels like to live near firing guns.
“Supporting the move doesn’t mean I don’t like hunting,” she said. “It means I don’t like bullets whizzing through my yard.”
Wrentmore said she thinks the existing boundaries make no sense. On her side of the road, hunters and residents are not allowed to shoot a gun, but on the other, they are.
“Most cities don’t let you fire away from your back porch,” she said.
Skagway resident Robert Murphy feels differently. Murphy said that although the rest of the country is leaning towards having stricter hunting and gun-control laws, he doesn’t think it should be that way in Skagway.
“I’m still living in Alaska,” he said. “I enjoy hunting.”
Right now, Murphy enjoys taking his son hunting, but if the ordinance passes he said he won’t be able to share that with him anymore. His solution to the issue at hand was to recommend that all hunters take a safety course, adding that it’s not hunters that cause unnecessary shooting accidents.
“The people you have to worry about with guns are not the hunters,” he said. “They are the criminals and the kids that get a hold of (guns) and don’t know what they are doing.”
Assemblyman Paul Reichert said the standing laws were acceptable for the time when they were created, but they do not reflect the recent growing of Skagway as a municipality.
“We can’t legislate stupidity, but we can legislate boundaries,” he said.
Reichert said the town has been lucky to have no shooting deaths thus far with the amount of tourists and families in Skagway.
Eric Moseley read a letter from their family.
“With dog walkers, people visiting the Gold Rush Cemetery and Reid’s Falls, the train, kids playing in the woods, a potential hover craft tour traveling upriver, and personal residences just on the other side of the Skagway River it would be common sense to not allow hunting in such an area,” he read. “It is a fact that bullets can ricochet and that targets can be missed. Let’s not let the next ‘unfortunate accident’ be a human life.”
The letter went on to add that the Moseleys are not seeking revenge on Rauscher or hunters alike, but rather that they became more aware of the safety issue though the tragic death their dog.
Assemblywoman Colette Hisman was the last to voice her opinion and said she either wanted to support passing the second reading of the ordinance, or move that the assembly table it to another time allowing for more discussion in an upcoming public safety meeting.
With that, the assembly motioned to table it until the next borough assembly meeting, June 3, and the motion passed with a 4-2 vote.
Borough budget increases, mill rate lowered; sales tax spending trimmed, port marketing boosted
By JEFF BRADY
Budget work meetings wrapped up last week with the Skagway Borough Assembly gathering twice as a committee of the whole and then passing second reading of its FY 2011 budget at its May 20 meeting.
Through the process, the general fund budget increased from $5.014 million to $5.115 million, but the assembly did trim the sales tax budget from $5.04 million to $4.9 million.
The sales tax budget will be further reduced if the assembly follows through at third and final reading June 3 on its recent action to cut the school operating fund by $151,780, and it also plans to remove a $50,400 lift that is not needed.
The assembly plans to use up to 1.5 mills from sales tax as a contribution to the general fund to “buy down the mill rate.” As such, the rate for Service Area I will drop from an original 9.2 mills to 8 mills. Last year it was lower at 7.25.
Mayor Tom Cochran said it had been a tough, emotional budget process this year, but he felt the town would be comfortable with the 8.0 mill rate. Many property values have dropped slightly after seeing big increases last year.
The biggest boost came in the Port Commission budget. It went from the borough manager’s original estimate of $62,000 to $200,000. Of this, $100,000 would go toward hiring a consultant for trying to secure the Selwyn Mine ore transport through Skagway, and be used for attorney fees for “early negotiations” with White Pass and AIDEA on the tidelands lease that expires in 2022. The travel budget for the Port Commission was also boosted and absorbed a $9,000 reduction in assembly travel.
In a letter to the assembly, the Port Commission members noted that Skagway had already lost the Wolverine Mine in the Yukon to the port of Stewart, BC and that it needed to pursue the larger Selwyn Mine, which may be making a transportation decision this summer. Selwyn has an ore body similar in size to the old Faro mine and a life expectancy of 25-30 years. It may even have enough tonnage to put the railroad back in the year-round ore hauling business.
“Our school is down to the lowest student enrollment in modern history,” the letter stated. “Winter employment opportunities are seriously limited, and, without them, young families will not choose to live in this community.”
The capital budget looks huge at $6.935 million, but $5.12 million of it is the wastewater treatment plant upgrade which is mostly funded by cruise tax funds and state and federal grants. Other sizeable projects are $400,000 for harbor engineering, $200,000 for street maintenance, $122,200 for a water tank project, $150,000 for engineering of a new public safety facility, and $100,000 for McCabe building upkeep.
In recent meetings, committees also made these adjustments:
• added $59,000 from the land fund toward a West Creek hydro feasibility study. It would match state funds if awarded in the next round of renewable energy grants.
• funded $85,000 for Lynn Canal Counseling from general fund but pulled $15,000 from the sales tax fund for work in the school.
• adjusted health and payroll expenses to reflect a 4.85 percent increase from Blue Cross versus an original 15 percent and reduced the Health Reimbursement Arrangement expense by $30,450, but they corrected an error in the Public Works payroll expenses that added about $60,000.
• boosted the sales tax audit line item from $6,000 for four audits to $10,000 for 10 audits.
• added $40,000 for a flatbed truck for the small boat harbor, but decided not to replace a computer for $2,500 and dropped $5,000 for advertising.
• added $7,000 for a new City Hall computer server, and $624 for a Rec. Center copier.
• reduced administrative expenses at the Rec. Center by $1,000 but added $5,000 more for utilities, and agreed to fund Little League at $3,000.
• Skagway Rec. opens new skate park
• Mickey Wilson caps career with two state track titles; Quinn Weber, Amanda Jensen SE champs
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)
Dyea Flats Land Management Plan passes first reading, but changes to come
The Skagway Borough Assembly passed the first reading of a revised Dyea Flats Land Management Plan at the May 20 meeting, noting that some changes need to be made before the plan is written into borough ordinance.
The meeting came one week after the Planning and Zoning Commission’s second public hearing about the document. After listening to public input on May 13, P&Z members passed the plan with an amendment that access to ATV areas on the Flats be added.
Dyea resident Dennis Bousson started off the debate at the May 13 meeting by raising concerns about a conflict of interest—that of Commissioner Robert Murphy’s status as a voting member on the P&Z Commission while simultaneously holding a commercial interest in the area. Murphy agreed to abstain from voting on the matter but continued to take part in the discussion.
Once public commentary on the issue began, Bousson stated that he was a former member of the Dyea Community Advisory Board, and that while he would like as minimal governing of the area as possible, he understood that wear and tear does affect the area, so it therefore requires some oversight. Bousson also stressed that the management plan is a living document and will undergo revision every five years.
Skagway resident Luke Rauscher addressed the commission with what became the biggest issue of the night—that of ATV use on the Flats. Rauscher pointed out that ATV use on the proposed zoning map was unclear, designating those parts of the Flats that are near or below the high water mark for ATV use. Yet these new lines make access to the areas only possible during low tide.
“It just doesn’t seem like you want any ATVs out there at all because you aren’t giving them access,” Rauscher said.
Resident Dean Andersen echoed Rauscher’s concerns about ATV restrictions on the Flats, saying that his family goes riding at the flats every year, that it is a much-loved family tradition, and that they respect the area because they get to be in it.
To this Wayne Greenstreet of the DCAB noted that the map was okayed in 2007, and that only minor adjustments had been made from the original 1996 map, including moving areas that have been damaged since 1996, campground areas, and roads that were slated to be closed in the 1996 plan but remain open.
The question of access brought another issue forward from the plan: to close or not to close unofficial roads that have sprung up over the years. While Commissioner Murphy argued the problem of ATV access could be solved by keeping all current roads open, Greenstreet pointed out this presents an ethical issue; the state gave the land to Skagway to manage so long as certain requirements were met. Some of those requirements, like closing select roads, were never carried out. Bousson agreed, stating that many of the roads were created unintentionally by one person taking a shortcut and others following suit, eventually creating a new road; these roads were not planned and need to be closed. Bousson said the map tried to follow the lines where people were already riding, but the plan stuck to municipal property because they didn’t want to get into discussions with neighboring sections of land, like those governed by the Park Service.
At one point, Bousson cited a National Historic Preservation Act, which prompted Commissioner Murphy to erupt: “why are we managing? Should we have the National Park manage for us?”
Murphy later addressed the board directly, stating that the issues brought up at the public hearing “merit discussion because this may be the only opportunity you have to hear this public opinion.”
Murphy stressed at several points during the meeting concerns about government control becoming a fixture of the plan, saying that amendments may be added every five years when the plan stands before a new commission as a “living” document.
Greenstreet again pointed out that Skagway agreed to protect historic and natural aspects of the area when the city took it over from the state.
Commissioner Spencer Morgan made a motion to include an amendment to add ATV use from parking and camping areas along approved roads, for means of access only. The motion was seconded, and all four commissioners still voting (with Murphy abstaining) approved the amendment. Commissioner Rocky Outcalt then made a motion to restrict all hunting in the area, but it was not seconded. The commission voted unanimously (with Murphy abstaining) to pass the revised plan—with road access for ATVs—on to the assembly.
At the assembly meeting, public discussion on the subject was brief. Assemblymen Paul Reichert, Mark Schaefer, and Mayor Tom Cochran all noted that a lot of work had clearly gone into creating the document. However Mayor Cochran said that the document still needs some changes. Assemblyman Dave Hunz also had some lingering concerns about the plan, but voted to pass the first reading.
In response to who is now responsible to make those changes, Cochran said that the Dyea Community Advisory Board and the Planning and Zoning Commission have both put a lot of work into creating and revising the document, so it was now on the shoulders of the assembly.
“It’s our job to finish it up,” said Cochran. – KELLY ROBERTS
Sprinkler requirements extended 3 years
The assembly passed second reading of Ordinance 10-05, which gives all commercial structures in the business historic district until June 30, 2013 to install an automatic fire-extinguishing system that conform with National Fire Protection Association Standard Number 13. Under the previous ordinance, businesses had until the end of 2010’s fiscal year, June 30, to comply.
“In this economic climate, we don’t want to force people to do this right away,” said Assemblyman Dave Hunz. – KATIE EMMETS
SCHOOL REPORT (complete report in print edition)
Thielbar accepts contract 98K offer; McCormick goes on paid leave
Dr. Jefferie Thielbar is in, and Les McCormick is out as Skagway School Superintendent.
At a pair of meetings May 12-13, the School Board discussed the superintendent situation in executive session. There was no action on the 12th, but on the 13th, McCormick read a letter asking for paid administrative leave, which would begin on May 24. His last day would be May 21.
“I want to thank you for the opportunity you have allowed me for your kids,” he said.
“Thank you for all the time and effort you put in here,” said Board President Christine Ellis.
The board then voted unanimously to accept McCormick’s request.
Members then moved into executive session to discuss a contract for Thielbar, whom they had voted to hire after a May 10 interview.
After the 45-minute executive session, Ellis said, “We are going to send a contract to the new guy and see if he’ll sign it.”
The salary offer was $98,000 per year, within the $95,000 to $100,000 range advertised, but above the $90,000 budgeted for the position. They were also hoping he would be available in June on a per deim basis to help them with current budget issues.
Last week, Ellis said Thielbar accepted the offer and will be coming to Skagway the first week of June. The board postponed this week’s board meeting to June 8 when he is here.
Jean Worley accepts flowers for her many hours of work on banners like the new State Champions banner unveiled that night. Avi Vogel accepts the Principal’s Award from Les McCormick. Jeff Brady photos
Mickey Wilson named Student of the Year; Tributes for Josh Coughran, state hoop champs at annual school awards ceremony
On a night when the Skagway School raised its State Championship banner for the undefeated girl’s basketball team, the biggest applause at the annual awards ceremony was for a teacher and activities director who is moving on.
Josh Coughran’s name was heard several times, initially by speaker Mark Jennings, co-coach of the state champs.
“I’d like to thank Josh Coughran for being an excellent AD,” Jennings said. “You are going to be sorely missed.”
Later that evening, Jennings and youth coach John O’Daniel presented Coughran a quilt that had been made from t-shirts from every event that the AD had been involved with at the school for the past five years. It also included a shirt that never went into circulation: “Beat Haines Greenie Weanies.”
O’Daniel said Coughran left a “giant footstep” in the community and “is leaving way too soon.”
But most of the night was devoted to the kids. Jennings said there were several key ingredients to the girl’s success this season: parental influence, hard work, their teachers, and “consistency in the system.”
He illustrated the final point with a moment during a camp a couple summers ago following a heart-breaking loss in the tournament that halted their season early. One of the kids was having a meltdown and questioning her devotion. Jennings said he told her this was just the beginning of tough challenges ahead on the court and in life. That player, Jesse Ellis, rose to be first team all-state two years later and helped carry her team to the school’s first state basketball title.
Two senior students dominated the big award categories of the evening. Amanda Jensen was named both Female Athlete of the Year and winner of the George Thiel Award as best student athlete. Mickey Wilson was named Student of the Year and Male Athlete of the Year. Avi Vogel won the Principal’s Award as the most improved student. The Victor Marshall Award for the best grade point average went to Kaitlyn Surdyk, Paige Hahn, Quinn Weber, and Wilson.
And there were many others:
• Perfect attendance – Amanda Jensen.
• Honor roll – Trystan Burnham, Donovan Henson, Elena Saldi, Zach Wassman, Polly Brown, Airk Cochran, Amanda Hoover, KC Mayo, Avi Vogel, Jayce Ellis, Ian Klupar, Anna Korsmo, Rori Leaverton, Jesse Ellis, Monica Harris, Brandy Mayo, Kaylie O’Daniel, Kayla Henricksen, Emily Herbig.
• Superintendent’s honor roll – Aidan Klupar, Yasha Saldi, Zoe Wassman, Rosalie Westfall, Jade Cook, Hannah O’Daniel, Riley Westfall, Alexis Grieser, Kaitlyn Surdyk, Logan Weber, Elise Doland, Thomas Etue, Sarah Gillis, Paige Hahn, Amanda Jensen, Quinn Weber, Mickey Wilson.
• DDF – Alexis Grieser (state qualifier) and Brandy Mayo (national qualifier).
• English – Most improved: Bryce Jones; creative writing: Airk Cochran; well-rounded: Jesse Ellis.
• Social studies – Alaska history: Elise Doland; US history: Alexis Grieser.
• Science – Challenge courses: Kaitlyn Surdyk, Rori Leaverton, Alexis Grieser; photography contest- John Doland; other science awards: Ian Klupar, Logan Weber, KC Mayo, Kaitlyn Surdyk, Hannah O’Daniel.
• Robotics – Al Weber, Elena Saldi, Denver Evans, Haily Jensen, Yasha Saldi, Riley Westfall, Rosalie Westfall, Kiara Selmer, Trevor Cox.
• Music – Airk Cochran.
• Cross Country/Track & Field – MVP boys: Mickey Wilson (state and region champ) and Quinn Weber (region champ); MVP girls: Amanda Jensen (region champ). Outstanding performances: Rori Leaverton, Kaitlyn Surdyk.
• Volleyball (state and region runner-up) – MVP: Jesse Ellis; Most improved: Elise Doland.
• Wrestling – MVP: Thomas Etue; Most improved: Logan Weber.
• Jr. High Basketball – Girls co-captain: Hannah O’Daniel and Jade Cook; Most improved: Elena Saldi, December Hayes; Boys captain: Donovan Henson; Most improved: Trevor Cox; MVP: Zack Wassman.
• Girls Basketball (state and region champs, coach of year Lara Labesky) – Captains: Kaitlyn Surdyk, Jesse Ellis, Kaylie O’Daniel; MVP: Jesse Ellis; Most improved: Kaitlyn Surdyk.
• Boys Basketball – MVPs: Thomas Etue (3rd team all state), Quinn Weber (all conference), Mickey Wilson (all conference).
• All-State Art Award – Alexis Grieser.
• Wendy’s High School Heisman awards: Mickey Wilson, Elise Doland.
• Prudential Spirit of Community awards: Mickey Wilson, Amanda Jensen.
Josh Coughran is hugged by John O'Daniel after the presentation of a quilt, held by speaker Mark Jennings, for his years as activities director, and the SHS girl's pose under their championship banners.