November 25, 2009 • Vol. XXXII, No. 21
Jeopardizing One's Rep
Andrew Cremata, sporting a wig only a TV emcee would wear, orchestrates the first round of ‘Skagway Jeopardy’ at the Pizza Station last Friday. The fun continues this weekend. See story below. Photo by Jeff Brady
‘Economic triage’ looms
Guardian founder, insurer respond to complaints about costly medevacs, encourage more ‘memberships’
By JEFF BRADY
The founder of Guardian Air and a representative of the insurer who supports the medevac service into Skagway recently addressed questions about the cost of the service. They suggested that the high cost of the flights – around $25,000 from Skagway to Juneau – is related to keeping a four-person crew ready to perform medevacs at any hour, year-round.
Tim Baker, a vice president with Apollo Medical Transport insurance in Fairbanks, and Dr. Eric Stirling, the founder of the Guardian Flight service, contacted the News on Nov. 16 after the parties received a letter from Rep. Don Young.
The congressman had received a letter in September from summer resident Charles Stearns, addressing issues that were raised with a medevac flight in early July for his wife’s stomach ailment that cost them $25,315. As a precaution, because she had been vomiting, become dehydrated, developed migraines, and her blood pressure was high, she was sent to Juneau by the local clinic, according to Stearns’ letter. However, at the same time this was happening on July 4, a young Skagway man broke his leg at Yakutania Point, and also needed to be medevaced to Juneau. While they were holding the plane for him, Stearns said his wife’s condition improved. And after they got to Juneau, it was confirmed that she had not suffered a heart attack, he wrote, and she was only in the hospital for two hours. With ambulance rides, the total cost was close to $29,000.
The young man’s family also was charged a little less than $25,000 for the same flight (see Aug. 14 Skagway News), and both parties have alleged they were double-charged.
When asked to address the cost of the July 4 medevac, Sterling at first stated that he no longer owned Guardian Flight, and that the prices had increased after Guardian had been sold in October 2008 to Eagle Air Med Corp. of Utah. New owner Joseph Hunt was contacted for this story, but did not respond before this issue’s deadline.
From page one
Sterling said how patients are charged on flights varies, but usually depends on whether the first patient is covered by Medicare. He said the second patient usually is charged a reduced rate if the first patient is covered, but there are always costs associated with the second patient. He did not know if adjustments had been made in the July 4 case.
Stirling admitted that the $25,000 charge for the service from Skagway to Juneau was “extreme,” and much higher than the $6,500 he usually charged when he owned Guardian and ran it on the side while he was a Fairbanks physician. A pilot, he said he started the service so it could help under-served areas of the state, adding that he didn’t take a nickel from the operation for the first nine years.
“I did it from a mission standpoint,” he said. “My wife and I took nothing out of it.”
Baker added that Stirling was able to keep the cost low because of low overhead. The doctor said that by owning the King Air turbo-prop planes, he saved 25 percent.
In his letter, Stearns asked the congressman, “What can possibly be the justification of an approximate 400% increase in the price of services?”
Stirling said he thinks he knows why the costs have increased under the new ownership. Eagle Air Med has decided not to operate at a loss like some other carriers in the state, he suggested. As a corporation, they have to do more than make ends meet.
The doctor said that in order to have a critical care crew of two pilots, a nurse, and a paramedic for the King Air, on call 24/7 year-round, it costs more than $200,000 a month. And that crew can fly into any Southeast Alaska airport at night, and also be ready to take patients past Juneau and on to more advanced Seattle or Anchorage medical facilities, he said.
He said a medical charter by a commercial carrier would be fine for those who can wait, but the Guardian service is there for the potential. In the case of Stearns’ wife, he said if there had been a rupture or she had gone into shock, they had the staff on board to take care of her.
“You are there for the critical ones and everyone else shares the cost of it,” Stirling said, adding that the cost of the service also has to account for the money they never collect from some patients. That amounted to $8 million uncollected in Alaska last year, he said.
“You still get the call and take it,” even if people never pay, he said.
But $200,000 a month is eight fully paid flights. Guardian sometimes comes to Skagway more than eight times a week in the summer. Unsuspecting tourists have also been hit broadside by the high cost, and in his letter to Rep. Young, Stearns said there has been some internet chatter about the high costs of medical travel in Alaska that could damage the state’s tourism industry.
Those tourists don’t know about the option where you can pay a $100 annual insurance premium to Apollo MT and have your whole family covered for medevacs and ambulance rides for a year. Baker said they would be happy to promote the Apollo MT program more, adding “our goal is to make it affordable for people.”
His biggest concern right now are reports that some people in Skagway may not be going to the clinic when they are sick or injured, for fear they may be medivaced and saddled with the cost of a Guardian flight.
“Our mission in this is to avoid economic triage,” Baker said, “someone unwilling to go on the transport because they are concerned about the cost.”
He said the price of the insurance has remained the same as it was before Guardian was taken over by Eagle Air Med, and that there has been no collusion between the service operator and the insurer, or on the price.
“The (medevac) prices are outrageous,” Baker said. “It’s hard for a family to recover from a $25,000 bill. That’s why we have the insurance program now. Our prices have never increased.”
He could not provide statistics on how many had bought the insurance “memberships” locally since the high medivac costs were brought to the attention of Skagway residents last summer. However, he suggested that the community could do as the village of Edna Bay did, and help those who may have trouble affording the insurance. “They had a community potluck to give memberships to neighbors who could not afford it,” he said.
The insurance memberships are available online at www.apollomt.com, or by calling 1-888-457-1711.
In his letter, Rep. Young stated, through his Juneau office, that the matter was outside his jurisdiction as a congressman, but that he would bring it to Dr. Stirling’s attention “for whatever action you feel is appropriate,” and then pass on comments back to Stearns.
Borough responds to WP&YR concerns over Gateway permit
Ore Dock owner wants no loss of cruise ships during construction; borough assures no disruption
By JEFF BRADY
The White Pass and Yukon Route on Oct. 29 sent the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers a letter addressing “major concerns” with an application by the Municipality of Skagway for the proposed Gateway Project.
The borough responded saying there would be no conflicts with existing operations at the ore dock, and White Pass President Gary Danielson said last week that he is satisfied with the response but wants to proceed with a Memorandum Of Understanding with the municipality.
The municipality had submitted an application, so it can be ready to proceed with engineering and construction if it receives approval next month for a federal Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant. The Gateway Project is a series of proposed improvements to the ore dock and terminal totaling $117 million. As envisioned, it would allow ore ships and cruise ships to dock at the same time, and add an intermodal freight-handling facility.
In his letter to the Corps, WP&YR’s Danielson stated there had been no discussions with the municipality on the design of the dock in reference to the possible needs of cruise ships. WP&YR owns the Ore Dock on tidelands that it leases from the borough. He added that Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska, which schedules ships into its Skagway port facilities, was not included in any of the design discussions. He also said there had been no discussions with TEMSCO Helicopters, which operate nearby within the leased area.
“While this project may be one that serves the public well in later years, the work with current owners/leaseholders and subleassees (sic) has not been done to address possible problems,” he wrote.
Danielson was concerned there could be “immediate financial losses” during construction due to a loss of cruise ships, and that it could affect future business. Rail and dock revenue generated by the facility last summer totaled $5.1 million, he wrote, adding there could be additional losses by other companies working with cruise lines.
The borough responded quickly to the letter after it was passed on by the Corps on Nov. 2. Mayor Tom Cochran and Borough Manager Tom Smith visited Danielson at the White Pass offices on Nov. 6, and the Skagway Port Commission reviewed a written response by Smith during a meeting on Nov. 10.
In the response to the Corps, Smith wrote that the borough would “make every effort to accommodate cruise ships with a minimum of interruption or inconvenience and have planned our phasing and construction sequence accordingly.” He then stated the first phase – a new sheetpile supported bulkhead area for a new ore ship loader – would be constructed in the off season, with some coordinated uplands work during the summer. Further dock work in a second phase would also occur during the off-season, he wrote. It said the cruise dock, current ore loading, and TEMSCO would be unaffected.
The ore ship ‘Aurora Ace’ loads copper from the Minto Mine at the Ore Dock in the glow of a November evening. The ship sailed Nov. 10, and was the last one of the year. Ore trucks have stopped running until January, when the Yukon River ice bridge is in place for them to access the mine site north of Carmacks, Yukon. Jeff Brady
The letter outlined four dates in which the mayor had meetings about the project with White Pass over the past few months, and stated the borough would contact other parties that have leases in the area. It stated that it regretted not contacting Cruise Line Agencies and will initiate a conversation.
In a phone interview last week, Danielson said that although he had meetings with the mayor about the Gateway Project, he never saw the final grant application, nor the corps permit application. After the application went in, he received a call from CLAA.
“They (CLAA) had never been contacted and were never involved, and they asked me to write a letter to address those concerns, and I did,” Danielson said.
Later on, the mayor and manager came over to his office and explained there would be no problems with cruise ships, he said, and they agreed to contact the other parties. He said he also told them that they need to look at how cruise ships are being designed for the future “to make sure the docks are right.”
Danielson said they answered his concerns well, and agreed to do an MOU, but he had not seen anything more from the municipality before he left for vacation on Nov. 13.
At the Nov. 10 Port Commission meeting, there was confusion over who should draft the MOU, the borough or White Pass.
Danielson said he was waiting on something more from the borough. He returns Dec. 2.
“I’ve always said we are willing to work on things, but it still is our dock the last time I checked,” he said. “We still have to come to some sort of agreement as to the dock. There have been a lot of discussions.”
White Pass has made a significant capital investment in the dock, he said, and the MOU could address terms for a long-term lease extension, purchase of the dock, and some sort of revenue sharing. “All of that has been kicked around, but nothing for sure yet.”
Another looming hurdle in the process is an application by the borough under the National Environmental Policy Act. A NEPA application is required because the borough is applying for federal funds. During the Nov. 10 meeting, the Port Commission reviewed a letter from engineer PND on their behalf. Much like an application for a road, it had to show other alternatives and why the borough settled with its preferred alternative.
Commissioners debated whether to mention previous lead ore contamination on the site. There was a federal clean-up of the site in 1989, but authorities then deemed it would be better not to disturb sediments that had settled in the ore basin.
“If there is still contamination, this would be the way to address it,” Cochran said, adding that it should be addressed before the lease with White Pass ends in 2023.
Member Gary Hanson said they could reference a report on the Department of Environmental Conservation web site, and others suggested that the sheet pile bulkhead could be filled with contaminated material, which would be capped during the construction process.
In last week’s interview, Danielson said he was unaware of the NEPA process, but he said the railroad had done its own more recent studies of the area as part of the Broadway Dock extension project in 2007.
“But they are our studies,” he said. “It’s not a concern right now.”
Writer plays dream host for ‘Skagway Jeopardy’ as Hanson takes first round
By ANDREW CREMATA
Play the game at home by answering the questions in this article highlighted in bold. The answers are at the bottom of the piece.
Ever since I was a little kid, I always wanted to be a game show host. It may seem an odd aspiration, but there’s just something magic about stiff hair and a cheesy voice. I’ve seen them all, from Bob Barker and Monte Hall, to Groucho Marx and Chuck Barris. Still, there’s one name that’s synonymous with the Game Show, the undisputed heavyweight of mind-numbing television trivia – the host of Jeopardy, Alex Trebek.
When I first approached Skagway Pizza Station owner Beth Smith about becoming a contestant for the Pizza Station’s Skagway version of Jeopardy, I had no idea my wildest dreams would come true. Smith’s idea was to design a replica of the popular game show with all of the questions redesigned to fit within local parameters. There would be topics including, Skagway History, Skagway Nicknames, Skagway Maiden Names, and the potentially confusing Skagway Family Relations.
As it turned out, there was no definitive host for the first-time event, so when given the opportunity to make my childhood fantasies a reality, I jumped at the chance. I was to become Alex Trebek, at least for two weekends, complete with a dusty gray wig.
The contestants for the first Friday, Nov. 20, were local retiree Gary Hanson, municipal employee Cindy O’Daniel, and former back up singer for Rick Springfield and one-time dairy queen Brook Merkwan. The contestants represented a cross section of Skagway in November – all hearty souls with an obvious amount of endurance. There was only one question left to be asked – Who is the local trivia master, Alex?
“This was the year the Klondike Highway became fully operational?”
With the sound of the familiar theme song the battle was underway. There were some obvious jitters during the Jeopardy round as some contestants quickly found themselves with negative points. Merkwan was able to rally when she correctly answered the first Daily Double question, “This person won the first Skagway Idol competition at Moe’s Frontier Bar.”
In between moments of getting lippy with the host, Gary Hanson got on a roll and quickly jumped ahead in the standings. Hanson’s moment was short lived after an epic flail when the question was asked, “These two Skagway couples are Courtney Mason’s grandparents.”
Hanson was able to name one set of grandparents, but timed out before he could complete his answer. O’Daniel buzzed in and was able to rattle off the correct response with ease, putting her in the lead at the end of the Jeopardy round. The miss was costly for Hanson who lost 500 points in the exchange to O’Daniel’s gain of 500.
The scores at the end of the round were O’Daniel with 1,000, Merkwan with -125, and Hanson with a dismal and embarrassing -500 points. Still, the double jeopardy round was moments away, and the competition was far from over.
“In 2008, when Skagway broke the egg toss world record, this was the winning team.”
So began the Double Jeopardy round, but not before a blunder by the host. I made the mistake of thinking the winner, O’Daniel, was the first to start the round. Hanson was quick to point out that the last place contestant is the one who gets to pick the first category. Hanson, an obvious television junkie, was indeed in last place, so he picked the category “Sports,” and round two was under way.
With point values doubled the game was starting to get serious. Merkwan scored a hit with the first question and was quickly out of the hole. Hanson got back to zero when he answered a question in the Sports category, “This Skagway Longshoreman was one of the first to ski Mt. Harding?”
Merkwan pulled the first Daily Double of the Double Jeopardy round. With a 1,000 point wager and correct answer, followed by an incorrect response by O’ Daniel, Merkwan suddenly took the lead, stunning both the host and the other contestants.
Merkwan was on a roll until a disastrous turn of events cost her valuable points. The question was posed, “This was the name given to Skagway locals in 1898.” Hanson was premature with his buzzer and answered incorrectly. Merkwan jumped in and correctly answered the question to a thunderous applause by the studio-restaurant audience.
However, there was a problem.
In the game of Jeopardy, every answer must be in the form of a question. Each contestant was given the opportunity to fail in this regard only once. In the first question of the competition, Merkwan failed to answer in the form of a question, and in this pivotal part of the game, she made the same mistake again.
It was an error I failed to notice but Hanson, obviously aspiring to become a host himself one day, was quick to point out the inadvertent blunder, resulting in a loss of points for Merkwan, and a round of boos for Hanson.
Hanson hit the last daily double in the category of History and Politics and was asked, “This Skagway icon dubbed ‘Queen of the Yukon,’ was murdered by her husband after moving to Seattle.” His correct response put him back in the game.
The final questions of the Double Jeopardy round were split between O’Daniel and Hanson resulting in a tie for first place. Both contestants were tied at 2500 points and Merkwan was still in the running with 625.
“This former Skagway mayor went by the nickname Boss Hog.”
As beads of sweat formed on the contestant’s faces, the Final Jeopardy question was fast approaching.
In the Final Jeopardy round contestants can wager any amount of their earnings and their totals are doubled if they answer correctly. Each had to write down their answer and had only 36 seconds to complete the task.
After a brief rendition of Rick Springfield’s “Jesse’s Girl,” by each contestant, wagers were placed and one final question was posed in the category “Family Relations.”
“Name eight Skagwegians living locally with the last name Burnham.”
The contestants were intent and scribbled furiously. An expletive shouted by Merkwan seemed to indicate she was less than happy with her response. With her list of only three Burnhams and inexplicable wager of $649.75, Merkwan became the first contestant in the history of the game to finish the final jeopardy round with negative points.
O’Daniel handily met the challenge by successfully listing 10 Burnhams. However, her wager of $1,250 left room for Hanson to take the lead.
After yet another disparaging remark toward the host, Hanson was shaking his head. It appeared as though he had failed to produce eight names, but it was only a mere bluff by the wily ferry system retiree. Hanson’s successful list of Burnhams and his wager of $2,499 made him the first-ever winner of Skagway Jeopardy. Hanson was the proud recipient of a $100 gift certificate to the Skagway Pizza Station. The runners up received no parting gifts.
Hanson will return next Friday, Nov. 27 to defy the host and defend his title in round two of Skagway Jeopardy, 8 p.m. at the Pizza Station. His competition will include Westmark Hotel Manager Jim Sager and renowned Dirty Girl Reba Radey.
As for me, I will continue to revel in my newfound profession and who knows, maybe one day I’ll grow me a Trebek style mustache. With rumors of a Skagway Family Feud in March, I might even have to go thrift shopping for a Richard Dawsonesque light blue polyester suit.
Answers: 1) When is 1979? 2) Who is Katie Kollasch? 3) Who are Les and Judy Fairbanks and Tom and Sheila Mason? 4) Who are Mike Healy and Tanner Hanson? 5) Who is John Tronrud? 6) Who are Skagwayans? 7) Who is Molly Walsh? 8) Who is Marvin Taylor? 9) Who are Charles, Joyce, Steve, Ken, Albert, Jay, Elizabeth, Willeke, and more. Those are just the Burnhams listed in the phone book!
Don Corwin displays window trim boards he found stamped “W.J. Erskine, Kodiak, Alaska”. The Erskine family lived in the Baranov building from 1908 to 1948. The building itself dates back to 1808. Baranov Museum
Skagway restoration carpenter Don Corwin wins state award
The Alaska Association for Historic Preservation (AAHP) recently recognized Don Corwin of Skagway with an award of excellence for his window restoration work on the Baranov Museum building in Kodiak. The award was presented at the AAHP’s annual meeting in Anchorage on November 14
Corwin recently completed a multi-year effort to preserve and restore the window units on the building, spending a total of 12 months in Kodiak since 2007.
According to an AAHP news release, a 2003 Condition Assessment Survey on the museum, housed in the oldest building in Alaska, noted that the windows were in poor condition and recommended the restoration effort. Museum staff had long observed the problem of water penetrating the building through the windows, endangering the artifact collections housed within and degrading window frames, sills and sashes. A two-inch gap was visible in the wood components of the signature gable window. Windows on the east elevation would frequently pond wind-driven rain before it drained into the wall cavity below. Other windows exhibited open joints, warped sills and cracked paint.
The scope of work for the restoration project included removing each window and window casing and trim, repairing and restoring all wood components, and rebuilding each window. No two windows on the building are precisely alike, so each unit was a custom job. Original materials were re-used to the greatest extent possible. All glass and hardware was reused and only a fraction of the wood materials were damaged beyond salvage.
Prior to re-installation, Corwin fitted all window openings with weather-proof flashing materials to prevent further moisture infiltration to the wall systems. He also fabricated wooden storm windows for each restored unit.
“We are thrilled that AAHP is recognizing Don with this award,” said Museum Director Katie Oliver. “Not only has his work on the building been of outstanding quality, but Don was always willing to interact with our visitors to explain his approach to historic preservation and the significance of the materials on the building. He was both a great asset and an ambassador for us throughout his time in Kodiak.”
Corwin is the owner of West Wind Woodworking in Skagway. He was one of the original members of the National Park Service restoration crew in Skagway in the 1980s, and has since gone on to do specialty restoration and woodworking projects across Alaska and even as far away as Midway Island.
Currently he is back in Skagway for the winter, working on a new bar for the Eagles.
The Baranov Museum remained open to the public seven days a week throughout the duration of the project. In the interest of building security and to ensure that he was able to complete the demands of the project, Don Corwin worked on the building every day of the week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Funding for the project came from a variety of public and private sources including the City of Kodiak, the Save America’s Treasures program, the National Scenic By-ways program, the Rasmuson Foundation, the Betts Johnson Memorial fund, Kodiak CHARR and many individual donors.
The Baranov Museum is a history museum in Kodiak, with interpretive emphasis on southwest Alaska’s Russian era (1741-1867) and early American era (1867-1912). The Museum is located within the National Historic Landmark building known as the Russian American Magazin or the Erskine House. Constructed in 1808 as a warehouse for the Russian-American Company’s wealth of sea otter furs, the Magazin is the oldest building in Alaska and the oldest of only four remaining structures of Russian construction in the United States. It is also the only building to encompass the commercial activities of both the Russian-American Company and the Alaska Commercial Company, the two global trading enterprises that shaped the scope and direction of settlement, exploration and commerce in Alaska for 100 years.
Don Corwin at work on the channel-facing gable windows of the Baranov Museum building, summer 2008. Baranov Museum/AAHP
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)
SFD job descriptions addressed
Three job description announcements for Fire Department personnel were presented for approval by the Borough Assembly at the Nov. 12 meeting.
Interim Fire Chief Wayne Greenstreet addressed the assembly and said the department was fine with the job description for the Volunteer Fire Chief, but he would like to see more input from the Board of Advisors during the hiring process for Maintenance and Clerical Assistant. He also asked the assembly to table the job description for Emergency Services Administrator as he felt the entry level wage for the position of Grade 14, or $20.96 per hour, was too low for the type of employee they were seeking.
Greenstreet compared the administrator position to that of a borough manager and the fire chief to that of a mayor. He said they were seeking a strong administrator.
Shelly Moss addressed the assembly and said the administrator spends the majority of the time at the department as the chief, and is only required to be there eight hours per week. She said the proposed pay grade does not represent what the position should stand for and that it was one grade lower than the current level.
Greenstreet originally asked that the entire board of advisors be authorized to sit in on the hiring of the maintenance and clerical assistant. After some discussion by assembly members it was agreed that two members of the board advisors would be added as members of the hiring committee.
The assembly voted unanimously to post the job descriptions for clerical assistant and fire chief, and tabled the vote on the administrator position. - AC
Assembly gets SMART
The assembly approved an amendment to the municipality’s contract with Stuart Brown’s S.M.A.R.T. bus shuttle transit service allowing for the use of larger vehicles and an increase in contractor’s fees to the borough.
The current contract stipulates that vehicles could be no larger than 30 feet long and carry no more than 30 passengers. Brown requested he be allowed to utilize busses up to 35 feet in length capable of carrying up to 36 passengers.
Even though Brown’s contract with the municipality expires in March of 2010, Vice Mayor Dan Henry, acting as chair with Mayor Tom Cochran’s absence, said Brown needed to purchase the larger vehicles now to ensure they would be in Skagway for the 2010 season.
Brown explained that on certain cruise ship days he could reduce the number of busses being used with the additional capacity.
Assemblyman Dave Hunz said the larger bus sizes would decrease the overall number of busses on the streets and added, “I think that’s a plus.”
An amendment increasing the contractor’s fee from $13,000 per year to $20,000 was also approved, and the assembly authorized the Borough Manager to enter into negotiations with Brown for another five-year contract. – AC
Library Board mulls expansion ideas
Internet use exploded last summer with free wireless
The Skagway Library Board met with Juneau architect Paul Voelckers Tuesday to talk about its space needs.
Libraries across the state are going through this process in anticipation of state funding through a library improvement bill that passed the Legislature last session, said Voelckers. The bill passed, but the Legislature will have to add a fiscal note to it in the next session.
After an initial meeting last month to talk about their needs, the Library Board invited Voelckers up to Skagway this week. His firm, MRV Architects, designed the library in 1976 and its first expansion in 1990.
Librarian Julene Fairbanks outlined the space needs identified by the board:
• more computer space and wireless internet access – current usage and traffic flow is disruptive to other library services.
• a larger presentation and meeting space.
• an enclosed children’s area, to limit noise.
• a covered walkway/entry that could double as a place for wireless users to sit.
• more daylight areas.
Options mentioned include expanding to the west or south, or going up a story on the back. These options would cut into the “secret garden” area that is hardly used. A 1,200 square foot addition is envisioned, and Voelckers said the tab in current construction costs could run around $500,000.
Libraries around the world are dealing with the switch to more computer-driven needs, and Skagway is no exception. Its three computers are reserved all the time in the summer, and this year the library added a walk-up station for quick browsers and free wireless for those with their own laptops.
Fairbanks said usage climbed from 6 gigabytes a month the previous summer to 42 GB a month last summer. This compares with winter usage is about 3 GB a month. The library does not charge, but donations have more than covered the additional bandwidth costs, she said.
Still, they would like a bigger room with six or seven computers, and more electrical outlets for wireless users. The goal is to provide more dedicated space for computer users, so they aren’t sneaking off to other corners of the library and annoying book patrons with their keyboard clicks.
Board member Jeannie Gonzalez suggested installing some benches on the north side of the building, since it is under a six-foot overhang that is out of the weather in the summer. Everyone liked that idea.
Where members differed was on the question of where to expand, but by the end of the meeting many were preferring expansion to the back (west) and up. At first they were scared of elevator costs, but Voelckers said small ones can be installed for $50,000 to $60,000.
Currently the upstairs level is a secondary reading area because it is not ADA-accessible. It could have more library and public uses if it were expanded and had elevator access, Fairbanks said.
But there may be construction limitations due to the size of concrete footings currently in place. The upstairs area also currently creaks when someone is walking up there.
Voelckers said he will start work on two or three conceptual expansion options for the board to look at. – JB
SCHOOL REPORT (complete report in print edition)
Board learns more about Virtual High School
At the Nov. 17 meeting of the Skagway School Board, Superintendent Les McCormick reported on a recent trip with technology coordinator Rick Hess to view a Virtual High School program in use at Petersburg High School.
McCormick has proposed that the district begin utilizing the program in the second semester. He said the Petersburg school was forthcoming about the “ups and downs” of the Massachussetts-based VHS program:
• Like any school district, he said, there are good teachers and bad teachers among the more than 200 online courses offered.
• In Petersburg, which is five times the size of Skagway, students have the choice of taking a course in school or online.
• The program can start in junior high, with eighth graders having the ability to take high school courses and seeing those transfer to high school. He said five junior high students use it in Petersburg.
• The program is monitored daily by a school site coordinator. And if a student types in a question for a virtual teacher, that teacher must get back to the student within 24 hours.
• There are many course options available, but in order for a student to take a virtual course, a teacher and counselor must say that the student is capable of taking the course.
• There is a very low failure rate, he said. If a student’s grade drops below a C, then a help notification is sent out to the teacher, site coordinator and parents, who can monitor the student’s progress. For example, he said a student’s graduation was held up until a student raised his grade.
McCormick said he talked with six high school students in Petersburg, and all were excited about the program. But he cautioned, “It’s not for everybody and not everybody uses it.”
He then faced several questions from board members and the public about how the program will fit into what the school currently offers.
Board member Darren Belisle said the program appears to be “an inexpensive way in the scheme of things to bring a lot more to the kids.”
Board President Chris Ellis asked how it would work with laptops. McCormick said students pay a $100 deposit and insurance to check out laptops in Petersburg. He added that the program is much more regimented than the correspondene courses some Skagway students currently use.
Member Joanne Korsmo said she wanted to see how Skagway teachers view the program. “I’d like them to weight in with their thoughts and concerns,” she said.
Board member Chris Maggio said the program seems geared to certain students.
“We have high performing students who could benefit,” McCormick responded.
“What about the non-high performing students?” Maggio asked.
“It’s an option,” McCormick said. “They are not forced into it.”
Courses would have to mesh with the school’s calendar, and some are only offered for the full year.
For the second semester, “we can put it out there and see if there is interest and then see what students sign off on it,” McCormick said. Then, if the program works to their satisfaction, Skagway could supply a virtual teacher next year, lowering the cost to the district.
Parent Rosemary Klupar said she had concerns about the virtual aspect of the program and students not getting the teacher interaction they have in a classroom setting. “It will never replace a real classroom,” she said.
A demonstration of the program will kick off the annual Community Forum, which has been scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 12 at 6 p.m. The board may get its own preview during a work session on Dec. 8 to develop topics for the forum. - JB
Eighth graders may get math credit
After much discussion, the board passed first reading of a new policy that would add an asterisk to its graduation requirements for math, allowing eighth graders who take Algebra I to be able to earn high school credit if their grades are high enough.
Currently, three math credits are required in the high school to graduate, but there are a few eighth graders and even a seventh grader currently taking Algebra I.
McCormick said he and board secretary Debbie Knorr researched how some other districts handle eighth graders. The original language at first reading stated that eighth graders would have to meet the following criteria in order to get credit for Algebra I:
• Class grade of A with an A on final; class grade of A with B on final; or class grade of B with an A on the final.
• Recommendation of the eighth grade math teacher.
• Eighth graders must agree to take three years of math during high school.
“There’s really no down side to this,” McCormick said, said adding that he supported making the policy retroactive to apply to current freshmen who took Algebra I last year.
David Vogel, parent of an eighth grader, encouraged the board to approve the change in policy. “I think it has merit,” he said.
During discussion, board members said they would be more comfortable with a B average to advance a student. Math instructor Dottie Demark, who said this was the first time she had seen the proposal, said that a B student in Algebra I would be ready to go on to other high school math. If a student finished with a C or D grade, then they could take Algebra I again in their freshman year.
They also decided to change the language to “encourage” students to go on and take three more years of math in high school, rather than make it a requirement. Member Stuart Brown said making the students take a fourth year of math would not be fair for students who may wish to use that extra high school credit on other advanced courses.
Korsmo initially wanted the language unchanged, but said “encourage” would be sufficient. “The kids who are serious about college know they have to take it,” she said.
The board also discussed with parents if the policy should be retroactive, and some supported having it apply to all currently in high school. Amendments will be considered at the Dec. 8 work session. - JB