November 27, 2013 | Vol. 25 Edition 48

Mums the word: school board policies questioned

New members frustrated when public not answered during meetings

Joe Prax and Alan Sorum, two former city council members that were elected to the board of education last month, have been openly questioning school board policies in recent meetings; Monday night the two expressed frustration with the board's policy that prohibits board members and district administrators from answering questions or responding to issues brought before the board when the public comments on non-agenda items at school board meetings.

Valdez Star photo
Veteran school board members Dolores Gard, far left, and Dan Walker, presided with newly elected board members Joe Prax and Alan Sorum during a special board meeting last October.

The issue was pushed by Prax after Valdez High School students in the culinary arts program came forward to urge the school board to continue offering the culinary arts class next semester, despite the fact that its current instructor, Terry Raidmae, will lose her certification to teach the class next month.

Only the board and superintendent Lisa Stroh did not address the issue head on, citing confidentiality with personnel issues.

Sorum and Prax disagreed that no information should be shared with the public during the meeting.

"There is information that could be given," Prax said. "Things can be discussed, they just can't be decided."

Prax, acknowledging he might be overstepping bounds, openly criticized the policy, noting his own frustrations he experienced in recent months when, as a member of the public, he addressed the board.

"I'm out of order," he acknowledged, "but get it out there."

Other board members were dubious about responding to public concerns on-the-spot during public commentary on non-agenda items, including concerns about the future of the culinary arts program.

"I'm a board member here who doesn't have the full story," board member Dolores Gard said during the discussion that ensued.

Sorum felt the students deserved a response.

"These students are wrapped up in a personnel issue beyond their control," he said.

Information was gleaned in drips and drabs during the discussion.

Stroh said the district knew the culinary arts program would not be offered in its present form after the first semester due to the certification issue.

How and if the program will continue, when, and in what form, has not yet been decided.

"We will discuss the culinary arts program at the December 9 meeting," Stroh said in an interview Tuesday morning. "At the present time, culinary arts is not scheduled for the second semester."

The district as a whole will be reviewing curriculum at all the schools in the coming months.

Before the culinary arts issue was brought to the board's attention, Stroh presented the board with the superintendent's 2013-14 goals.

Stroh listed curriculum concerns as her top goal on the list.

"All students (K-12) will be taught a cohesive, sound curriculum which has been horizontally and vertically aligned with the Alaska State Standards, taking into account individual student's needs, talents, and aspirations for the future, as measured by VCS district teacher opinions," the first item read.

Board president Anita Fannin said a future work session is needed so the board and superintendent goals match up.

"We'll have a work session at some point," Fannin said, "Hopefully sooner rather than later."

She also noted the difficulties Stroh faced as the district's new administrator.

"She's continually putting out fires" erupting from past administrative decisions Fannin said. "She needs time to move forward and not just look at the past."

In the meantime, the culinary arts students at the high school are still hoping for the program to continue next year.

Stroh said in Tuesday morning's interview that it is hoped the program could continue, if not next semester, then next school year, but hinted big changes could be in store.

"It just might look different," she said.

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