The threat of declining state and local funding dominated last week's Candidates Forum focused on the school board.
Running unopposed for seat C, political newcomer Bob Cummings also shared his platform and answered listener questions.
Unalaskans can check out selections from the forum below — or catch the entire rebroadcast on 89.7 FM (Sept. 20 at noon and Sept. 21 at 4 p.m.) and Channel 8 TV (Sept. 27-30 at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.)
School board candidates on their credentials …
Josh Good (seat D): "As a former teacher who's worked in different roles in Alaska schools since 2004 — and in Unalaska, specifically, since 2011 — I can offer insights and ideas from my experience in the classroom, my education schooling, and my extracurricular work with school teams, groups, programs, and different committees. This is a perspective, I feel, that is absent on the school board, and I believe it could be very beneficial."
Denise Rankin (seat D): "I grew up in Unalaska. I moved here when I was 6 years old. Graduated in 1987 — a class of three girls. I have experience serving on other boards and committees. I love this community, and I fell in love with this school system when I was 6years old. […] I will continue to love it even if I’m not elected. But I think my past experiences and also just being a graduate from here — I think that helps. And I would appreciate if I could continue to serve."
Bob Cummings (seat C): "My family and I moved to the island a little over three years ago. We love it here. […] I've been involved in the school system. Last year, I substitute taught and before that, for the past couple years, I was on the budget committee. It's just something that I'm quite interested in. I'm very concerned going forward. I think the budget situation from both the city and the state are in jeopardy, and I think these are some critical years that could have lasting effects for the educational landscape in Unalaska, so I want to be involved in that process."
Good (seat D): "A lot of the different cuts that have been threatened — it really affects the way Alaska looks when it's out there on the platter for teachers across the country. It's not near as enticing as it’s been in the past. So it's important that we, as the Unalaska City School [District], do something to change that. We have to be more attractive. […] In the past, we've recruited some incredible teachers, and I've worked with some of the best colleagues I've ever experienced here in Unalaska. I think that's because we are who we are. We really have that going for us, and we can build on that — having had a great school historically — and use that to our advantage to recruit those teachers. And retain those teachers too."
Rankin (seat D): "Unalaska is very expensive to live [in], and it's very unique. You either love it or you hate it. And as much as we can put out there selling how wonderful it is, when we do go to the job fairs and even on our website … I think it will be difficult to bring people up. I think, down south, the economy is getting stronger, so people are able to stay on the road system, where it's cheaper to travel. Travel out here, as everyone knows, is so difficult. It's so expensive. […] I think it's something the whole community is trying to figure out how to work on."
School board candidates on lobbying Gov. Mike Dunleavy and state lawmakers …
Good (seat D): "They look at us and they're like, 'Wow, your budget is really full.' And we are super fortunate to have the City of Unalaska provide as much money as they do to our school. But with the budget cuts that we just talked about, that isn't going to be as easy for the city to do, and we need to be prepared for the city to not be able to do that. […] We really need to make the legislators realize this isn't sustainable. And if it is sustained, we are in a serious budget crunch."
Rankin (seat D): "We have to constantly advocate for our community and our school system when we're talking to our representatives. We need to continue to remind them how difficult it is to live in a remote area. We're so fortunate in Unalaska that we aren't like even more remote communities where they can't get groceries or fuel and it's so expensive. But it is still expensive here, and I think they forget that when they're on the main road system — how pricey it is to live in rural communities, how difficult it is when you can't have high-speed internet when they want the [state standardized] testing to be online."
School board candidates on providing extracurricular programs in a time of limited funding …
Good (seat D): "Sports, arts, and other programs are what every kid needs to help vary their school experience. That diversification is huge, and it helps prepare them for thing outside of school. Providing everything an appropriate share — that becomes the priority. Where do sports stand compared to music? Where does music compared to shop programs? And where do those stand compared to science programs? All those extracurriculars — they need to be balanced. But then, we also need to look at: Do we have the space for everything that we offer? Our school is incredible at providing so many different opportunities, but there might come a time when we don't have the funding to offer everything. We might not have the funding to offer the flights for the students in and out of town."
Rankin (seat D): "The extracurricular activities that our students have and that are available here are amazing. I think it's very important for our students to be able to have the sports and the arts, and they have choir now. […] The travel helps all of our students become stronger individuals because they get to see what other communities are going through. They get to interact with other children their age. With the budget uncertainties, there may be a time where we have to reevaluate where we're putting our spending. I think, at that time, and the school already does such a great job of this — of including community members when they go into the budget process. I think we'd have to continue to do that — have everybody become involved."
Cummings (seat C): "I think arts and sports are very important. When budget cuts come, one of the first things to go are these peripheral arts, sports, music, et cetera. And I think that would be a mistake. Core subjects are very important, but students have a wide variety of interests. And in order to keep them engaged in school, you have to engage them and keep their interests. […] I think we do a pretty good job of using community resources. For example, the school now has a debate team for the first time, and that's something that's possible because there's a community member who has the skills and the interest to be a mentor and to be a coach. There's been an Unangan afterschool program for a long time, and that's something that pulls on existing resources of the community. […] So I think using those as models, going forward, we could increase that presence and that engagement and give greater offerings without spending a lot of money."
School board candidates on teacher compensation …
Good (seat D): "As far as the budget's concerned, we need to be able to put as much of it as we possibly can towards teacher compensation. Great students are a big part of the equation and help keep the teachers here in Unalaska, but the compensation — it's definitely an issue that could be addressed."
Rankin (seat D): "I think all school districts are having to look at other ways to come up with funding or incentives for their teacher contracts, and I am totally open to that. I think the contract we that we just passed showed that we are open to that. I would love to see less turnover in our school system."
Cummings (seat C): "I think the most important thing is retention. Last year, [turnover] was especially high. I think, in rural districts in Alaska, the average teacher turnover rate is 20 percent. Last year, I think, in Unalaska, it was over 30 percent. I think it's a concern. […] As Mr. Good said, it's not all about compensation. There are other ways that can make the experience such that teachers want to stay here, and I think that's important."
KUCB's second Candidates Forum event will focus on the races for mayor and City Council. The live show starts Thursday, Sept. 26 at 7 p.m. at the Burma Road Chapel. Unalaskans can submit their questions by attending in person, calling 581-1888, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.