Local News

New borough school board fills vacant seats, discusses school security

Petersburg has a full, five-member school board again.

Two board members voted into seats in last month’s borough election were sworn in and appointed three other board members who decided not to run in that election.

The newly seated board heard about the district’s efforts to update emergency response plans, in light of school shootings like last month’s massacre in Newtown, Connecticut as well as other potential emergency situations.

For iFriendly audio, click here:

Like the first meeting of the borough assembly a week ago, petersburg’s school board meeting started off the new year swearing in newly elected members. Jean Ellis and Cheryl File took their seats on the borough school board and asked for statements from three people seeking appointment to the board, John Brinhurst, Sarah Holmgrain and Dawn Ware. The three were on the city school board but did not run in last month’s election.

New borough board members whether they’re elected or appointed have to file financial disclosure forms with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. That requirement can only be waived with the approval of local voters in an election. Ellis and File appointed Bringhurst, Holmgrain and Ware to fill the three vacant seats. They’ll serve until the next borough election in 2014. Meanwhile, File’s term will be up in 2015 and Ellis’s will end in 2016.

Board members re-elected Ellis to serve as president, Holmgrain vice president and File secretary-treasurer.

The first item of new business for the board was information about the district’s plan for crisis response. Superintendent Rob Thomason told the board he has contracted with local resident Marcus Hom to create a new emergency action plan for the district, it’s administrators and building principals.

“My thinking is all of us who are educators, I don’t really, I have no expertise, nor does Erica (Kludt-Painter) or Rick (Dormer) in emergency response planning, or the incident command system,” Thomason said. “We just can’t be all things to all people. So lets do it right and lets get an expert to help us here and then follow what he might suggest. Now some of them will be construction things that will take longer and some of them will be immediate procedure things.”

Hom has worked in law enforcement with the U.S. Forest Service in Petersburg and has a training and consulting company called Dark Horse Defense. He told the board he would be looking at man-made emergencies along with natural disasters like a tsunami, earthquake or fire.

“What the scope of this project is going to entail is basically the physical security at the school and physical measures that we can take to increase the safety of the staff and students,” Hom said. “And then also new policy at the school and that’s going to be something that will be implemented over time but its gonna have to change a little bit just to have less free-flow of traffic. So there are going to be some policy changes as well. And finally we’re going to look at just the training and getting all the staff trained what to do in the emergency situations.”

Hom said he would produce a flow chart for staff responsibility in an emergency. “It’s going to be structured in the national incident management system and then we’ll also use some plain wording so that the people that are going through this chart are going to be able to understand which position they’re filling at what time. And the real goal that we have is to make it so if a principal or somebody else is not at the school that day somebody else can step up into the position and fulfill the role that they need to fill.”

The review is expected to take about three months and the contract is for 70 hours of work totaling 42-hundred dollars. Board members asked questions about the district’s emergency planning and wondered about possible changes. Board member John Bringhurst described visiting schools of his grandkids in the Lower 48. “It’s a pretty startling thing with wrought-iron fences around the schools and gates that take you directly into administration,” he described. “And you go into administration and give them your drivers license and they give you a little ID thing and then they escort you to the classroom or the auditorium or wherever it is you’re going. I guess that’s where we’re at and to safeguard kids, I guess no measure is too great but it really feels sterile and unfriendly. It feels like you’re walking into a penitentiary not a school ground.”

There’s more information about the school emergency planning efforts on the district’s website.

In other business, the board unanimously approved new $50 a month cell phone stipends for seven district employees.

Recent News

Strong king catch means early closure for Southeast trollers

Troll caught winter king salmon (Photo courtesy of Matt Lichtenstein)
Southeast Alaska’s commercial salmon trollers are heading back into port after the winter season closed this week. Thanks to strong catches of king salmon on the outer coast near Sitka, it’s the earliest closure on record for the winter fishery. more

Petersburg sole bidder on three Mental Health Trust parcels

Petersburg is the sole bidder on the three uppermost parcels toward the top of this image. (Image from the Alaska Mental Health Trust Land Office).
It looks like the Petersburg borough will be purchasing some land at Papke’s Landing, about 10 miles south of town. more