Nome Schools Superintendent Steve Gast Resigns

ast will depart Nome at the end of this semester—December 31. (Photo by Jenn Ruckel, KNOM - Nome)
ast will depart Nome at the end of this semester—December 31. (Photo by Jenn Ruckel, KNOM – Nome)

Hopes of calmly winding down the fall semester have now been dashed, as the Nome Board of Education is about to get busy searching for a new superintendent.

Steve Gast’s letter of resignation was officially submitted—and accepted—by the Nome School Board at last night’s regular meeting. With what he called “mixed emotions,” Gast thanked the board and the community of Nome.

“It is a very bittersweet time. But some things happen, as we know, that you can’t change and when it centers around family, you just have to make some hard decisions, and that’s what I had to do,” said Gast. “I want to publicly thank not just the board, but this [community]. This is a wonderful, wonderful community. There are a lot of sweet and wonderful people and some awesome kids, and I’ve been blessed to have at least four and a half years of being involved with them, and I thank you very, very much for that.”

Returning from a half-hour executive session amid the public board meeting, members unanimously voted to approve Gast’s resignation, effective December 31—each member expressing appreciation for his work and disappointment seeing him leave the district.

But with only about two weeks before semester’s end, President Betsy Brennan said they’ll have to act fast to appoint an interim superintendent before eventually conducting a full search.

“I think we find an interim, somebody to steer the ship for a shorter period of time, and then decide: do we want to do a full-out search? Do we have candidates internally? And then go from there,” said Brennan.

December 15 will be the tentative deadline for internal district staff to express interest in the position. Pulling from within is preferable but demanding, since staff are already stretched thin. Alternatively, the Association of Alaska School Boards can step in to conduct a statewide search.

Brennan said they’ll just have to buckle down to make the switch as smooth as possible. “This will be a transition time but I am confident that our staff can handle this and as a board, we’ll get working!”

In more routine matters at last night’s meeting, the board recognized the Bering Sea Lions Club for their donation toward Nome Schools’ child nutrition program. And celebration of this monetary stimulus was juxtaposed with what could become future financial hurdles: an increasingly bleak outlook on state finances—discussed at last week’s City Council meeting—could spell trouble for educational funding. That, paired with the Superior Court ruling in Ketchikan that Alaskan cities (like Nome) are no longer required to help pay for public education.

There’s no immediate concern for Nome Public Schools, but Gast said those rumblings should “put a shudder through everybody” while deciding how to spend responsibly for the future. Meanwhile, Nome Schools’ state funding budget for this year is based on a population of 700 students. And with enrollment dropping just slightly further than planned, Business Manager Paula Coffman says money might get a little tighter.

And not just for the sake of budgeting, the board wants to explore that enrollment decline. One way was suggested by Barb Amarok.

“I would like to see the school some time connect with the families who sent their children to Mt. Edgecombe High School. I think at one point this year there were 26 Nome children who had left our district and I think we need to address the reasons why,” said Amarok.

Another board meeting will likely be scheduled in December to discuss filling the interim superintendent position.