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Waiting For Final Word On State Funding, UCSD Focuses On Filling Teacher Vacancies

Laura Kraegel

Next year, the Unalaska City School District will have a big batch of new teachers — and a new bus company.

Superintendent John Conwell updated the school board on both issues last week, emphasizing the district has already filled four of the seven staff vacancies sparked by resignations and sabbaticals.

"We're in pretty good shape at this point in the hiring season," he said.

"The hiring team was deliberate in its search for candidates with two or more endorsements to give the district maximum flexibility in building class schedules while taking into account higher-than-normal enrollment in some grade levels," he continued.

Resigning are health and gym teacher Casey Clausius, ELL teacher Joey Fordyce, industrial arts teacher Josh Good, English teacher Erin Knight, and social studies teacher Mike Price.

Amy Purevsuren is also taking a year off from the English department, while longtime foreign language instructor Galena Roraback is retiring.

School Board member Fernando Barrera said it'll be especially difficult to see Roraback leave.

"Both of us became American citizens in the same ceremony in 1997," he said. "I'm going to miss her, I know that a lot of the students will miss her, and in my book, she's irreplaceable."

Meanwhile, the district has been able to replace outgoing school bus provider DH Transit with a new local company.

Bering Shai Pedwell Transpiration — the only bidder on the contract — is currently being formed by Bill Shaishnikoff, owner of an Unalaska gravel quarry, and former city engineer Keith Pedwell.

Conwell said their four-year contract will start July 1, as long as the startup finalizes its LLC registration and completes its purchase of DH Transit's buses. 

"The proposed daily rate per bus is $750, for a total of $1,500 per day for two bus routes," he said. "This is down slightly from the $781.50 per day rate the district currently pays."

The school board approved that deal unanimously, along with the district's $7.9 million budget for fiscal year 2020.

The status quo plan maintains all personnel and programs. But with steep cuts proposed to state education funding, Conwell said it'll almost certainly need revising once lawmakers gavel out.

"We're kind of operating in the blind, I guess, with this budget," he told the board. "So do expect some changes — probably in the fall — after we find out what our funding levels are going to be from the state."

While the district is projecting a state contribution of about $4.3 million, it stands to lose about 30 percent of that funding under the fiscal plan proposed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

Conwell said the district would have to make cuts or draw on savings if that happens, because the school board has already made the maximum funding request to the City of Unalaska.

The City Council is expected to consider that request at a meeting in April.

Laura Kraegel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2020. She was KUCB's news director starting in 2019. We are proud to have her back in the spring of 2023 filling in as an interim reporter for KUCB.
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