October 30, 2009 • Vol. XXXII, No. 19

Skirting the Wave Barrier

The Skagway tug boat Le Cheval Rouge scoots around the Pacific Pile & Marine crane and barge which has begun installation of the new $3.265 million wave barrier at the entrance to the Skagway Small Boat Harbor.

Photo by Jeff Brady

School Board reinstates DDF

Community support, suggestions save program

By JEFF BRADY

After hearing from a crowded room of students, parents, teachers, and a guest artist in support of the Debate, Drama and Forensics program, the Skagway School Board on Tuesday night voted 3-1 to proceed with hiring a coach for the program.
More than 15 people spoke up in support of keeping the DDF program. None spoke out against it.
Superintendent Les McCormick last month, in a note to the board, recommended against hiring a coach, since only one student had expressed interest in being involved full-time in the program. Starting off the discussion this week, he said he initially assumed that since there was no reaction from the board, that “that’s the way it is.”
But he said he learned quickly that “a tree (falling) makes a sound even if no one is around (to hear it).”
In this case, the public and the press learned about the DDF program possibly being cut from students and former coach Kent Fielding (see Oct. 9 issue). Several students and parents presented letters and attended a special meeting Oct. 13, hoping the superintendent’s recommendation would be reversed in time for a student to attend the first DDF meet of the season in Haines. But then-President Darren Belisle said he had not put the item on the special meeting agenda (the only item was board reorganization after the recent elections) and no work session had been advertised. The issue was placed on the Oct. 27 regular meeting agenda and listed as “DDF Coach” under unfinished business.
At Tuesday’s meeting, McCormick concluded that the issue was now up to the board.
“The board needs to direct me, or I will not (hire a DDF coach),” he said. “I support every program for every kid, but there has to be more than one, or the program is nebulous.”
Board member Chris Maggio then stated that it was “pretty clear we want it and need some kind of coach.” He said one student was enough, and made a motion to post for a coach and get the program up and running. Stuart Brown seconded the motion.
For the next 45 minutes, the board heard testimony. All seats in the library were filled and about half a dozen people stood in the back. Most of them spoke, and there was unanimous support for the program at various levels that would involve more than one student.
Elementary teacher Denise Caposey said she was an avid supporter of the program, especially after being a judge at last year’s meet in Skagway and watching the kids excel. “We are misleading ourselves that it is only one student,” she said, adding there is support in the community to fund the program.
Fielding said it was true only one or two students could go to the State DDF Meet in March because of a conflict with basketball regionals, but he said there are more students who can do both sports and DDF and make choices about which tournaments to attend throughout the year.
“We are a small district and we need to think about keeping our programs alive,” he said.
Nat Towsen, a New York comedian, video artist and international DDF coach who had been brought to Skagway by the district and Arts Council, spoke at length about how DDF changed his whole attitude toward academics when he was in high school. He coached some Skagway kids at seminars in Turkey the past two summers, through his work with the International Debate and Education Association. After workshops this week, and including three students in his stand-up act for the public, he said the Skagway students are “all above average.”
“It would be a shame to lose a program that has produced some of the best… to budgetary concerns or temporary uninvolvement,” Towsen concluded.
One of his students, Brandy Mayo (in photo with Towsen on left), said she had benefited greatly from DDF, and that students develop skills that will serve them throughout their lives. She said DDF had helped her with academics and time management skills. She said other students besides her were interested, “and I don’t doubt their commitment,” adding, as student council representative, that the student body was unanimously in support of the program.
“As a person who is not athletic, I would hate to see our only academic program die,” she said.
Mayo’s mother and father also spoke up. Tina Mayo said her daughter became interested in DDF the first year it was offered, when she was in eighth grade, and couldn’t wait for her high school years. She said the program should be offered to students to participate in various levels, and added she would support DDF long after her kids are out of school because it is a “wonderful program.”
Bruce Weber said there had been interest in a program even 10 years ago when he was on the board and took some kids to see a DDF meet in Haines. Now that the program has developed, kids are learning invaluable skills, added Cara Cosgrove (pictured testifying at meeting on right). She questioned why the district never sent a letter home asking if their kids would be interested in DDF, and encouraged more direct communication.
High school math teacher Dottie Demark first read a letter of support from the Skagway Arts Council that presented evidence that DDF kids score higher on tests, have higher literacy, and behave better. As a teacher, she said, “On a day-to-day basis, I have witnessed changes in DDF students and positive growth.”
New Borough Assemblyman Paul Reichert said he had an opportunity in high school to play sports and be involved in DDF, and it can be done here.
“Having that balance was invaluable,” he said, adding that the excitement he saw among DDF kids in the hallway at last year’s meet “matches any energy in any gym.”
Parent Lisa Hollander said she was a strong supporter and asked that the program be opened up to junior high kids, so they can start practicing. Others supported this approach to keep the program active and stimulate interest.
Karl Klupar said just watching Brandy Mayo develop her poise was all due to DDF. “Education is less about filling the bucket than lighting the fire, and DDF definitely lights the fire,” he said.
Rosemary Klupar said an unfortunate lack of communication prevented the program from going forward before the Haines meet, adding that her son could have attended, and now hopes to attend a meet in Sitka in November. She said he has had to make choices.
SHS senior Mickey Wilson said that as soon as they hire a coach, there will be a flow of at least three more kids into the program, and he also supported including the junior high. As both a basketball player and a DDF kid, he said his grades got better when he became involved in DDF.
Brandy Mayo added that she joined the volleyball team this year, and was faced with making choices about where to travel.
“It’s another skill to help you learn to make effective decisions about our future….” she said. “I’ve found that it is not that difficult to be in both.”
The discussion then turned to the board, whose members thanked the public for their testimony.
Maggio said the testimony reinforced support for DDF, and that it does not have to involve a lot of traveling to be a successful program.
Brown said he would be a torch-bearer for DDF and the arts, but was critical of one letter which stated money could have been saved on other activity travel.
“Tell us before,” he said. “We have to think about the money side of it too, it is really tight.”
He added that there should be “no child left behind” if there is interest from even just one in DDF, and said there could be more if they come up with a plan.
Belisle, the only member to vote against the motion to proceed with hiring a coach, said he heard a lot of testimony that travel was not that important to the program. He suggested that DDF be offered as a class again and taught in the classroom, but one student in the room said that was not possible under the current schedule.
“Maybe we can tailor it for one student if there is a good plan for it… but we still have travel and coaches,” Belisle said, noting that they have to hire the best qualified coach, and there are hidden costs due to requirements for male and female chaperones.
The figure thrown out for continuing the program was $7,000 with the expected new level of student interest – about a $10,000 reduction from what was budgeted. The $16,800 DDF activity budget passed last spring included travel for six kids, a coach, and a chaperone to five meets.
The deciding vote came to Board President Chris Ellis, who admitted she was teetering, even with the reduced funding amount, and that she could see the superintendent’s side. She said DDF operates differently from other programs, with kids coming and going over a long season, but bringing in the junior high was something she had not previously considered.
Maggio said they had heard from the public, they needed to be flexible, and that it was their job and the superintendent’s to make the program happen. “Bottom line, it’s for the kids,” he said.
Ellis then said that she had always supported DDF, and agreed with all of what was said, “but a lot of things are coming down the pike (in terms of funding).” In the end, she voted with Maggio and Brown to seek a DDF coach.
Applause from audience members followed the 3-1 vote.
McCormick then said, by policy, they have to advertise the position for 10 days, and it might not work well for having someone in place by the next meet in Sitka on Nov. 13-14.
Maggio suggested a special meeting, and the superintendent agreed to expedite the process. The notice went out Wednesday morning, and a special meeting has been scheduled for Nov. 10.
McCormick suggested Fielding could assist with students in the meantime, and Fielding said he had planned to help on a volunteer level, even though he had made a commitment to his family to not be a traveling DDF coach this year. Maggio said there is interest in the coaching position in the community.
Brown said a letter should also be sent to students encouraging them to participate.
Already, three are preparing pieces for Sitka.

AP&T elevates Schubee Lake as hydro alternative to Connelly Lake

West Creek, Dayebas also mentioned as possible projects

By JEFF BRADY

Alaska Power & Telephone CEO Bob Grimm recently announced that the company, in recognizing it could face “costly resistance” to its proposed Connelly Lake dam project near Haines, has elevated other projects in the region to equal status for study, reconnaissance and grant funding.
While it still touts the economic benefits of Connelly Lake, formerly known as Upper Chilkoot Lake, the company in an Oct. 21 statement said it will study other hydro alternatives for its power grid, so it may no longer be forced to burn diesel in winter months. These include Schubee Lake on east Taiya Inlet, an alternative that was recommended by Lynn Canal Conservation, West Creek near Dyea, and possibly Dayebas Creek opposite Haines.
AP&T prefers a 10-12 megawatt Connelly Lake dam project because it would give Haines residents a land line connection to a substantial hydro source, so they would not have to depend solely on hydro supplied by a submarine cable from Skagway’s Goat Lake and Kasidaya projects.
But LCC has objected to the Connelly Lake location, citing uncertain impacts on the sensitive Chilkoot River sockeye salmon fishery. Grimm said LCC had “represented” that Schubee was “without controversy” and would avoid efforts by LCC to raise local, regional and national funding to “work against Connelly Lake.”
In a follow-up interview, AP&T Regional Manager Stan Selmer said the main purpose of the press release was to “elevate Schubee to the same level as Connelly Lake.”
He said AP&T would study Schubee in two phases. The first phase would be a 3 megawatt project that diverts water from the lake north to the company’s new Kasidaya power station. A second phase would be a 10 megawatt project with its own power station below the lake on Taiya Inlet. However both would rely on the existing submarine cable between Haines and Skagway that could fail, AP&T has noted.
Both the Connelly Lake project and Schubee are in the Skagway Borough. Dayebas Creek, near the entrance to Taiya Inlet, is in the Haines Borough.
A larger 25 megawatt West Creek project near Dyea in the Skagway Borough also has been suggested to provide power in Skagway for up to three cruise ships to cut down on air pollution. The idea is currently being weighed by the borough, which plans a public meeting on West Creek in the future. Last year, however, the borough did join with AP&T to hurriedly submit a grant request to study the project’s feasibility through the Alaska Energy Authority’s new Renewable Energy Program. AP&T also submitted its own request for Connelly Lake. Both projects received recommendations for partial funding from AEA staff, but in the end were never funded.
Feasibility studies for a small private project at Burro Creek, as well as another AP&T project on Prince of Wales island were funded.
Selmer has asked the borough if it wants to resubmit the paperwork for the next AEA grant cycle, due Nov. 10. So far he has not received a response, and a decision may have to wait until the next borough assembly meeting on Nov. 5, or later.
“The grant can still go in but we don’t have to take the money, if the community decides at a public meeting that it does not want it,” Selmer said.

Skagway Library now taking passport applications

The Skagway Public Library has been designated a Passport Acceptance Agency by the State Department.
In an e-mail this week, Librarian Julene Fairbanks said the library can now accept passport applications on an appointment basis. The library also has various passport applications for name changes and renewing by mail, she said.
There had not been a passport agency in Skagway since the state magistrate’s office stopped accepting them in June 2008. This caused a bit of a panic in Skagway as the June 2009 deadline for having a passport or passport card at all land borders approached. Many had to make trips to Juneau to submit new applications, and those who did not have the time or could not afford the trip, pleaded with the congressional delegation to establish an office here.
Sen. Mark Begich was able to get the State Department to send up representatives for a “Passport Fair” in September, and said the process had begun to locate a new passport office in Skagway. Initially the police department was mentioned as a possible location, but the State Department settled with the library.
The library will accept and process all documents by appointment. Winter library hours are 1-8 p.m. Monday through Friday. Guidelines are on the applications or can be found at www.travel.state.gov .

CLINIC BOARD PREVIEW – Dahl Memorial Clinic Board members survey their new surroundings during a meeting in the new Rasmuson Community Health Center conference room last week. Clinic Administrator Shelly Moss said Dawson Construction allowed the board to meet inside of the clinic, but stressed that project completion and the big move are still about a month away. See story in our print edition. Jeff Brady

BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)

Assembly teleconferencing passes first reading
 An ordinance that would allow assembly members to attend up to four meetings a year via teleconference, but no more than two consecutive meetings, passed unanimously at its first reading at the Oct. 15 Skagway Borough Assembly meeting.
The ordinance was amended to allow two members teleconferencing at a meeting, as long as there is a quorum of four members at the assembly table in Skagway.
New Assemblyman Paul Reichert asked if the ordinance should include a review date to assess whether the ordinance was working, and make changes if problems were discovered.
Mayor Tom Cochran said that it was only a first reading, and it would not be necessary to add a review date as the assembly could address the ordinance at any future date.
“It’s basically trying it out on a limited basis,” said Cochran.
Municipal Clerk Marj Harris said there were two changes made to the ordinance per recommendations by the municipal attorney. One change outlined the method by which absent assembly members would access meeting materials and arrange teleconferencing with the clerk, and the other stated that no recordings would be made of executive sessions.
Second reading and public hearing on the ordinance will be at the Nov. 5 assembly meeting. – ANDREW CREMATA

Power taxation opinions fly at meeting
 Assemblyman Dan Henry said the borough manager and attorney were currently looking into whether Skagway should be collecting sales tax revenue for power supplied to Haines by Alaska Power and Telephone. He said Haines was currently collecting the sales tax, but the municipality was “going to be looking into the legalities” of whether it should be revenue for Skagway.
Henry said there would be no effect on AP&T, as any business already acts as the “go between” in regards to the collection of sales tax.
“I want to be as clear as I can be,” said Henry, adding that only the question being asked was whether the sales tax revenue should be for Haines or Skagway.
AP&T on Oct. 9 submitted a letter explaining its position. Regional manager Stan Selmer wrote that the initial discussion on taxation at the Oct. 1 meeting caught company officials by surprise at the (see Oct. 9 issue). In the letter, he stated, as he did at the meeting, that the company views the sale of power from its Goat Lake Hydro to its Haines subsidiary as a “wholesale sale of energy outside the Borough of Skagway.”
Selmer added that under the definition of a retail sale in municipal code, there is no interpretation that would “cover a transfer of electrical energy for resale. In fact, the ‘retail sale’ declares it to be a retail sale for any purpose other than resale in the regular course of business.”
He closed by saying that they fail to see “any legal or factual basis” to require sales tax collection on energy sent outside the borough, but acknowledged that they are not experts in municipal law and taxation and “would look to the Borough of Skagway to seek an opinion from those that are.” – AC

SCHOOL REPORT (complete report in print edition)

District count: 89.5 students
 The state count period has ended and the Skagway School District has submitted an average enrollment of 89.5 students to the Department of Education, Superintendent Les McCormick said at the Oct. 27 school board meeting.
The board passed a budget based on a projected enrollment of 95 students last spring. Exactly what the lower count will mean in terms of reduced revenue from the state will not be known for a while, McCormick said. However, the board met with him in an executive session on finances for more than an hour at the end of the meeting.
When asked by the News if the board was going to discuss the count dilemma and possible budgetary impacts during the executive session, Board President Chris Ellis replied, “all of the above.”
McCormick added that the he did not have firm numbers, but “needed the ability to forewarn the board.”
After the executive session, which began at 8:27 and ended at 10:16 p.m., the board deferred scheduling a work session on the current budget. McCormick said he would have “no good numbers” until January.
Skagway is already under a “hold harmless waiver” from the state for dropping below 101 students last year.
Earlier in the meeting, McCormick said the Alaska School Administrators Association had passed a number of resolutions asking the Legislature to address funding issues. One asked the state to consider dropping the reduced funding formula cutoff from 101 students to 41.
“When 101 was put in, it was an arbitrary number put in before the No Child Left Behind Act,” he said. As a result, with the constrains of NCLB, many small districts are now having trouble funding teachers.
ASAA also supported: a drop in the hold harmless percentage from 5 to 2.5 percent; increased funding by $100 per student; and raising the maximum compulsory attendance age from 16 to 18.
McCormick said the resolutions would have more clout if they were also supported by the Alaska School Board Association, which meets this month. Ellis said the board should also write the district’s legislators. – JB

Skagway still No. 1
 McCormick passed out a list of the top 16 districts in the state based on composite test scores. At the top was Skagway with 180, followed closely by Wrangell at 178. A distant third was Unalaska at 169, followed by 13 other districts scoring between 157 and 165.
“Kudos to the staff, parents and kids who put in the effort,” McCormick said.
McCormick added that the Wrangell superintendent, Woody Wilson, gave the impression that it was his goal to catch Skagway before his retirement.
During a workshop on test scores, the moderator showed in more detail how Skagway’s scores were level across the top, compared with other districts where scores fluctuated more.
“We’re an anomaly that he would like to do more research on,” McCormick said. – JB

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

PIN PERSUADER – Skagway’s Ian Klupar looks for help from the referee as he maneuvers for a pin over Mt. Edgecumbe opponent Christopher Jennings at last weekend’s tournament in Skagway. See more photos and results in Sports and Rec. Photo by Jeff Brady