As borough assembly meetings go, the back-to-back ones earlier this month (Nov. 10) were both encouraging and thought-provoking.
The evening began with interviews of the seven candidates vying for assembly member Dan Rohrer’s remaining one-year term, Dan now having moved over to the position of borough mayor.
What made this election exceptional was the quality of the field of candidates, any one of whom would have made a fine addition to the assembly. Ordinarily in this type of appointment one crosses his fingers and hopes that at least one candidate stands out. And whereas only one candidate could be appointed, at this election one would have been inclined to magically change the number of assembly seats from seven to nine so additional candidates could also sit on the assembly. The field was just that good.
What was subtlety revealing was that when asked (one of the standard questions) as to why they desired to sit on the assembly, the common theme from the candidates was that they wanted to play in the same sandbox as current borough assembly members. That speaks to the high quality of our existing assembly members (and mayor) and their ability to bring independent thinking to the table, while at the same time working together as a team. Overall, just not too bad. What government can be at its best, we’ve got. And I think that there are now both high hopes and even higher expectations for this assembly.
Following the above special meeting, a regular work session meeting convened. The major focus was a committee report by the Kodiak Workforce Forum, with a presentation by its chair, Jared Griffin, a well-known KDM columnist and professor at Kodiak College.
In his presentation, Griffin presented slides indicating that in the Kodiak job market the “Desirability of employees to work is low” and the “Quality of skill-level among Kodiak job seekers is low.” So, if I have this right, each year the borough collects property taxes from its citizenry (in 2015-16 it was about $15.2 million). From this, it supports our schools by transferring a portion of this revenue to the Kodiak Island Borough School Board ($10.9 million last year), in addition servicing school bond indebtedness ($2.1 million last year), for a total of about $13 million. Which means that last year, on average 86 percent of our property taxes went to support our schools.
At the high school’s Career Technical Education, or “vo-tech,” open house this past October, information was presented that approximately 10 percent of our graduating high school seniors go on to a four-year college, another 10 percent attend college locally (both part-time and full-time), and the remaining 80 percent (approximately 200 students) became adult members of our community at large — apparently not job-seeking ones, though.
So what we have is a system where 86 percent of property taxes are used to provide an education to our children where, on graduation, the majority of whom lack both the motivation and skills to get a job — to the extent that local employers would rather not hire them, but prefer to import tradesmen from off-island, thereby exacerbating the island’s housing shortage as one consequence.
So when our local school board boasts about its outstanding Career Technical Educational program, this claim is clearly disproved by the facts presented in the latest KoC workforce study.
And as to the assembly, instead of spending time on periodic flights of fugacious fancy, maybe the assembly should work with the school board to better prepare our students for a working life following high school. For not to instill a positive work ethic deprives many of these students of the only real chance they will have to live a productive life in adulthood.
All of which, of course, is just my opinion.
Jeff Stewart is a retired project manager and former member of the KIBSD Board of Education.