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Yakutat torn by school dispute

Posted: Monday, February 17, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A dispute between Yakutat's school principal and newly hired superintendent has divided this town of 800 on Alaska's Gulf coast.

Since mid-December, the principal has threatened to resign, teachers voted no confidence in the superintendent, a recall effort was initiated against a school board member, and the borough mayor has voided a school board vote.

The disruption has taken a toll, said former school board president Skip Ryman.

''People are walking on eggs,'' he told the Anchorage Daily News.

Ryman was president last June when the board met to consider three applicants for the superintendent's job. Yakutat has a single school for its 160 students.

Board member Vern Sigler asked not to participate in the discussion because he had a financial conflict of interest -- he lives with one of the applicants, Carla Sheive. Ryman agreed that Sigler shouldn't participate.

But three other board members voted to overrule Ryman. Later that night, with Sigler's concurrence, the board offered the job to Sheive at $84,000 a year.

Sheive did not return phone calls and an e-mail requesting an interview, and principal Rod Schug said he would not discuss his work relationship with Sheive. But other people in Yakutat said they watched the relationship deteriorate to the point that Schug told his staff in December he was ready to resign.

Bert Adams Sr., president of the local branch of the Alaska Native Brotherhood, a community group that monitors educational activities in the town, said Sheive had reprimanded Schug on several matters but their final dispute centered on the discipling of two high school basketball players.

Two prominent players had been caught smoking marijuana at school and were suspended for 45 days. They were also supposed to lose 10 days of basketball practice once they returned, which would have meant the two would be ineligible for the first tournament of the season.

Schug wanted to follow the policy strictly, according to Adams, but Sheive reprimanded him and told the coach -- Adams' son -- to let the boys skip the 10-day practice suspension.

When the school board sided with Sheive, Schug announced his intention to resign. It prompted an outpouring of support, Adams said. ''He's a very popular principal.''

At a special meeting before Christmas, teachers and classified employees voted nearly unanimously that they had no confidence in Sheive but supported Schug.

Parents, the local alumni association and community members weighed in with a letter to the board. The group said Schug has created ''a positive and healthy environment for both students and teachers'' in his three years in Yakutat. They mentioned new after-school programs, formation of a parent-teacher association and a decline in bullying among students.

''We believe that Mr. Schug's resignation will have a detrimental effect upon the community of Yakutat as a whole, will directly and negatively impact our children's success in school, and will create an environment of discontent among staff members,'' the letter said. It concluded by asking Sheive to resign.

The board was not swayed, said new president Daryl James. ''As long as she enforces (board) policy, I'm in favor of her,'' he said.

The board emphasized its support Jan. 20 when it voted 3-2 to extend the superintendent's contract two years. Sigler was allowed to vote on his domestic partner's job, James said. Even though the two live together, it doesn't represent a financial conflict of interest because they're not married, James said.

That didn't sit well with the community, said city and borough Mayor Victoria Demmert. She voided the board's vote a few days later.

''They have a policy, apparently, that if they decide they have no conflict of interest, there is no conflict,'' Demmert said. ''That policy is contrary to the policy of the city and borough of Yakutat, and the city and borough of Yakutat code definitely trumps the school board's code.''

In the meantime, more than 60 residents filed a petition to recall board member Sigler. Petition backers say he violated local and state ethics codes that prohibit board members from voting on issues in which they have substantial financial interest.

A recall election is set for April 1.

Former board president Ryman said he has stayed out of the school fray since leaving his seat in October but called it painful to watch.

''There are some real challenges facing rural education,'' from declining funding to falling enrollment to meeting national standards, he said. ''Our borough and school should be working shoulder to shoulder to make sure students are getting the most they can. Unfortunately, they're tied up in bureaucratic nonsense.''



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