Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


Third opening on school board may go to write-in candidate


September 29, 2011

Voters will see two familiar names on the ballot for Haines Borough school board. Anne Marie Palmieri and Brian Clay are seeking re-election and are uncontested. Each is seeking a three-year term.

As of press time Wednesday, there was no declared candidate for a third, open three-year seat on the board, recently vacated by Stacie Turner. A write-in candidate who garners at least 40 percent of total votes cast could win the seat.

Otherwise, the school board will solicit letters of interest and appoint a member at its November meeting, board chair Carol Kelly said this week.

Palmieri and Clay answered identical questions this week, including what issues are facing the district, district strengths and weaknesses, graduation requirements, and district wages.

Clay, 47, is an auto technician who has served two previous terms.

The biggest issues before the district are state funding of schools and the federal No Child Left Behind legislation.

A roll-back in federal funding for districts within national forests could spell trouble for the district, which shouldn’t seek increased funding from the borough, Clay said. "I don’t see them doing more than they are now. They don’t have enough money."

To offer new programs like one this year aimed at early-age reading skills, the district would perhaps look at new funding sources, he said. "The question is, are we getting our money’s worth. (The program) is a big hit. There’s a lot of parents excited about that."

He said the answer to school funding was improving the local economy to attract more families, and more students.

No Child Left Behind is an unfunded mandate and unrealistic goal the state should opt out of if it can, he said. "To say we have to meet this goal, but not put any money to it was unfair."

Clay said he didn’t want to see high school become more difficult, but said the district is looking to raise standards to ensure students were in classes for four years, including adding a senior-year project, and possibly adding more advanced placement classes.

The district has enough teachers with advanced degrees to offer more advanced classes, he said, including through distance learning. "We need to help the kids so they don’t get into freshman year (of college) and say, ‘Oh, God.’"

Clay said he’s satisfied with district pay. "I’m quite happy where we’re at. We’re competitive with other schools our size and (the most recent raise) is sustainable."

An area that needs work is the district’s music program, and changing scheduling so more students can participate in the program. Also Clay said he’d like to see a wider array of vocational courses to attract more students to vocational education.

Student travel – which can consume one-quarter of a high-school student’s year – is a fact of life here, he said. "It’s the nature of the beast. You can’t go across town for a football game. That’s just the way it is."

Students who travel must maintain grades and also sign a contract, co-signed by parents, to not use alcohol and drugs.

He said he agreed with a decision by the school board chair Carol Kelly to keep the superintendent’s evaluation private, as that would match policy for other employees.

"Our school district’s doing well. We’ve got all the right pieces in the right places," Clay said.

Anne Marie Palmieri, 42, is an environmental specialist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. She has served 18 months as board member.

Like Clay, she cited possible funding shortfalls as among issues facing the district. "Especially given the fact the state didn’t raise its base (student) allocation last year."

She also cited the cost of employee insurance, which increased by 20 percent last year.

She said she’s also concerned about whether the district is doing the best job preparing students. The district is surveying recent graduates. "Since they’re our customers, we need to find out what they thought were the most beneficial things we did for them. I anticipate we’ll be talking about that this fall and I expect it will be an ongoing discussion."

It’s too early to talk about a larger borough contribution to the school, she said. "That’s a hard thing to say right now, given we don’t know (next year’s) number of students and you never know what the legislature is going to do… If a (new program) is something we need to do, we’ll find ways to fund it. There are always ways to shift money around if it’s beneficial to the kids."

The district could do more for gifted students, she said. "There are a lot of kids who could be challenged more. Our teachers are very stretched to do what they’re doing but I think we can do more to meet the needs of every kid. With our financial constraints, that will always be a challenge, but we can strive to do better."

She said she’s satisfied with staff pay. "We are – across the nation – close to the middle in teachers’ pay. We took a good step this year in trying to even things out. When it comes to pay, we have to be competitive so the teachers we’re hiring are high quality."

Palmieri said she doesn’t have strong feelings on changing graduation requirements to keep upperclassmen in class. "It would be great if we could provide electives they found interesting and helpful, if we’re not going to change the requirements."

Palmieri said she had no opinion on keeping the superintendent’s evaluation private and said high school student travel was "not a huge issue" to her if students keep their grades up. "Academics should take priority but I think that it needs to be balanced. That’s a hard thing, given where we live and the remoteness."