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for this opportunity to address you regarding Sitka’s perspective as it relates to the future of public education funding in Alaska. My name is Scott McAdams, and I serve as the chairman of the Sitka School Board. Also here with me is Tori Bisson, Sitka School District Business manager. Our Superintendent Steve Bradshaw is currently out of town, yet he sends his regards and appreciation for the important work you are doing this summer on behalf of Alaska’s kids. As some of you may know, Sitka is a mid-sized school district serving five schools and a small correspondence home school program. Our school cites are all located within the Sitka road system, and our projected ADM for next year is 1415. As has been the case with many Southeast Alaska communities, our student enrollment has steadily declined since the closure of the Sitka Pulp Mill in the early 90’s, and while Sitka continues to change and evolve demographically and socially, it is the charge of our schools to maintain the quality program our community has grown accustomed to despite a relative loss in our actual ADM dollars and the economy of scale they once provided. Sitka is an education oriented community, and we are blessed with an electorate that regularly supports public education at the ballot box. Our Borough Assembly has historically provided resources that are at or near the allowable local cap. Sitka is rich with parent volunteers and a business community that sacrifice to provide our kids with opportunities that would not be possible within the limitations of our operational budget. Our district is also blessed with a solid core of professional educators who are committed to our kids. Because of this ongoing local support, we believe that our students are receiving a good education. However, as we have been strategic in maximizing our expenditures to provide the best possible comprehensive program focused on student achievement, we believe that there are some challenges regarding the manner in which we are funded by the State that warrant the attention of the task force. In my comments I would like to briefly address the issues of teacher retirement, intensive need student funding, equity, and adequacy. Regarding TRS/PERS The Sitka School District greatly appreciates the Governor’s and Legislature’s leadership in addressing Alaska’s un-funded TRS/PERS liability, and more specifically, appreciate this years efforts to offset what would have been devastatingly high district contribution rates. Please accept our request for continued support of our school districts by establishing an ongoing employer contribution rate at last years subsidized level. Regarding Intensive Needs Students Sitka is home to the Southeast Alaska Regional Healthcare Consortium, and as such we have grown into a regional healthcare magnate community. Because of our readily available services, our school district has served a significant number of intensive needs students relative to other school district populations. As we are sure you have heard from
other corners of Alaska, the actual expense in serving this student population is significantly higher than the current multiple of five times the BSA factored through the foundation formula. We request that should you consider a re-crafting of this foundation component, please consider communities like Sitka, which currently has 2 ½ percent of our total student body designated as intensive needs. More specifically, a 2% block grant for this factor without a special rider for situations like ours would not serve the actual need of these students in our district. Regarding Equity The Sitka School District, City and Borough of Sitka Assembly and Sitka Tribe of Alaska are all on record in support of a resolution to implement 100% of the recommended District Cost factors as supported by the ISER Alaska School District Cost Study Update, as are many similar civic and governmental groups in the Southeast communities of Petersburg, Wrangell and Ketchikan. As all four of the aforementioned communities have been factored at the Anchorage base since the passage of SB 36 in 1998, we believe that both statistical analysis and common sense affirm that the costs associated with operating our schools are greater than the equivalent costs in urban Alaska. A rudimentary understanding of economics removed from the in depth analysis done by ISER in the least would concur that the economies of scale and their correlated savings available in a district with 15,000 students are far greater than those available to a district with 1500. In this we contend that everything we purchase, from a carton of milk to our building systems contracts cost more in rural southeast Alaska, and because of this, an increase to our multiplier is warranted. It is also worth mentioning a rationale for equity that is often not mentioned. We believe that inequity in Hooper Bay, Fort Yukon, and Kake is a threat to AYP and the property values attached to school performance in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau. We know as school governance leaders that we are symbiotic and have mobile student populations, and that an inequitable education anywhere in Alaska is a threat to school performance everywhere in Alaska. I would ask anyone from a large district to disaggregate the number of students in their schools who have spent at least part of their K-12 education in rural Alaska, and I am confident that the percentage of your student bodies designated as such would rival any other demographic sub-group that is currently identified in your No Child Left Behind testing framework. It is in all of our interests that all of our schools succeed. Finally, we recognize that some of the political opposition to the ISER study has deemed it invalid because of its attempt to estimate the associated costs needed to recruit and retain a professional workforce equivalent in quality and tenure to that enjoyed in urban Alaskan schools. Such opposition specifically cites another study that ranks pay lower than other factors considered when a teacher leaves a community. From this, we openly concede that we as local leaders should do all we can to promote a community culture that values teachers and their work. We know as established fact that the number one correlative factor that renders high student achievement is high quality instruction, thus we must embrace whatever means necessary, both monetary and non-monetary, needed to
place and keep a high quality teacher in every classroom in Alaska. As we make these efforts to keep our employees, it is also important to note that teacher salaries are a primary driver in a highly competitive teacher labor market that will only become more competitive in the near future due to the retirement of Baby Boomers all over Alaska and the U.S. In other words, we believe that ISER has investigate an important component as it relates to equity through their analysis of the cost of quality labor and every child’s equal right to it, because at the end of the day, YOU CANNOT RETAIN WHAT YOU ARE UNABLE TO FIRST RECRUIT. Money does matter in a competitive market. Next, I’d like to testify regarding our position on adequacy First of all, those of us charged as the districts legislative liaisons recognize that the overwhelming majority of our State leaders are people of good will who want to do as well as they can by our schools and children. The Sitka School District continues to believe that the best way to advocate for our kids and their educational needs is through the political process, and we greatly appreciate the support that has been given to us by the Legislature over the past several years. We also support an adequate Base Student Allocation, and the needs of students in Urban Alaska. We recognize that some of the challenges faced by our large school districts do and will continue to require additional dollars to solve, and we absolutely by no means intend in word or deed to pit the equity needs of our region against the adequacy needs of urban Alaska. I believe that the Standards accountability framework that was started in Alaska long before the passage of No Child Left Behind can be likened to a new engine in an older vehicle called public education. With all of its engineered parts aimed at efficiency and precision, it stands ready to transport us in the right direction. While some still need help through increased governance support and other means in learning how to best drive this car, it can be rightly said that every district needs an adequate amount of fuel in it’s gas tank to make our accountability engine roar. We believe that we have a fair and sound foundation formula that simply needs to be fine tuned as it was intended to be periodically from its inception. We hope that as you complete your work this summer, that you will consider actual cost above surveyed expenditure as you review school equity, that you will account for the real and pressing needs of our large schools as you determine how much our baseline needs, and we wish you all the best in your efforts to fine tune the remaining component parts needed to created a more perfect foundation that will deliver the next generation of Alaskans to greater heights, Thank you for your time and consideration regarding our testimony.
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