1. What is the most important role of a school board member? What tops your to-do list?
Marty Anderson: Assure accountability that the students are receiving the best possible educational experience with the funds provided by the federal, state and local governments.
Tim Navarre: The most important role of a school board member is to support the schools, the kids, the teachers and the parents to achieve the best educational opportunity for all. The top of my to-do list on the school board is to make sure we have a good long range plan —both with the state and with our borough— to make sure we have adequate and fair funding to support our educational model.
2. What are your top budget priorities? If you had to cut the school district budget, where would you start? Is the district prepared for potential changes in federal funding?
Anderson: My priorities are to continue to offer the greatest number of possibilities for our students while keeping the PTR low. My job is not to cut or increase the budget but only to assure the funds provided to us are spent wisely. I believe our administration is highly tuned to the possible changes and has been diligent in preparing for any changes.
Navarre: I want to find a way to adequately fund education, but it requires constant review such as what the school board will be doing this winter with transportation. Even though our transportation costs are funded by the state, we identified some savings that can be made in the south end of the district from Ninilchik to Homer and those need to be addressed. Whether you are spending state, federal or local dollars you need to make sure you’re spending them wisely and efficiently. The first thing I would look at cutting in the district’s budget would be the PTR or pupil teacher ration. I would increase it, not by a lot, but it does give us room to maneuver without cutting any of the existing programs in the schools. We’re not as dependent on federal dollars as a lot of other states. I think our district is prepared to adjust for some federal shortfalls.
3. How will the state request for a No Child Left Behind waiver affect the district?
Anderson: Hopefully it will be positive. NCLB has accomplished some things, but did not consider specific needs of districts and schools. While it raised the bar in performance/accountability, it had unintentional penalties that did not help schools or students. I hope we don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.
Navarre: For the most part, it’s a positive. It gets a little confusing but the waiver will allow the percentage of students required to be proficient on the Standard’s Based Assessments to remain at the same level as last year, in other words there won’t be a step up. So it gives everybody to catch up. The state is working on making changes to teachers and administrators evaluations as part of the waiver and our district is actually head of the curve on that. The state’s waiver is even looking to include individual student growth in the waivers. It’s good because you don’t have to compare this year’s fifth graders to last year’s fifth graders. Each student compares against themselves. That’s been one of the biggest complaints against No Child Left Behind is that one size doesn’t necessarily fit all. The state is working with us, it gives our district and the state some flexibility and some time to make positive changes.
4. What is the school district’s greatest strength? What is the district’s greatest challenge? What would you do to build on those strengths and tackle the challenges?
Anderson: I believe our strength is our ability to work together while have a very diverse community. We are fortunate to have a very knowledgeable and dedicated district staff and many talented teachers. Our greatest challenge will be to maintain our variety of courses and keep our PTR low while our student population decreases. Our funding shrinks with less students but it still cost the same to run buses and keep buildings open. We must maintain a high level of communication with all stake holders-parents, students, teachers and our funding providers. If we continue to work together as a community, we cannot fail.
Navarre: You know, I think our greatest strength is we really do have a well-balanced district; from our fund balance for replacement of technology and equipment to our low PTR in all our classes. Those are all, I think, our big strengths. We’re ahead on technology against some districts across the country and certainly in Alaska. All of our schools are wired. Our buildings aren’t falling down or needing major repairs. I think we have a very good superintendent and administration as well.
The downside is that we don’t have a teacher’s contract. I think that doesn’t speak well about our district. I think it’s important that we have harmony between our employees. It’s too bad we can’t come to some type of disagreement and move forward. We went up to the last minute on the transportation contract, we’re going up past the last minute on the teacher’s negotiations. We’ve got to find ways to make that process more smooth.
I believe the school board can become even more engaged than it is. I’m going to encourage us all to spend more time, more hours, getting information and making better-informed decisions as a whole.