Ketchikan’s school board agrees to give tribal leaders input on hiring

The Ketchikan School District seal is on display at the superintendent’s office. (KRBD file photo by Leila Kheiry)

Tribal leaders will have more input on school hiring in Ketchikan after the school board approved a plan in a split vote Wednesday night. In an unrelated matter, the Ketchikan school board will be looking for a new president in January.

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough School Board approved a memorandum of understanding with Ketchikan Indian Community at its Wednesday evening meeting.

“This is not legally binding. This is an aspirational document,” said board president Matt Eisenhower during Wednesday’s meeting.

The agreement gives tribal leaders or their designees 20 percent of the seats on district hiring committees. In exchange, KIC will provide higher education funding for Alaska Native teachers, who will then be eligible to be hired by the school district.

Hiring committees don’t make final hiring decisions — instead, they issue recommendations to the superintendent and school board, which have the final say on personnel.

The plan aims to reduce the dropout rate among Alaska Natives, who make up more than a third of the district’s students.

Board member Jordan Tabb said giving tribal representatives a seat at the table will help the district hire teachers and staff that understand the unique needs of Native students.

“Having additional perspectives in hiring committees lets those hiring committees look for the qualities and look for the educational experience and backgrounds that will help us hire staff and faculty that will be successful in reaching and working with our Native students,” he said.

But board member Bridget Mattson said she was hesitant to give another government input in a process that’s traditionally been controlled by the school board.

“I personally have an issue making an agreement with allowing any other government organization — I don’t care who they are — give us a list of approved people that we can have on our hiring committees,” she said.

Mattson joined board member Leslie Becker in opposing the agreement, which passed 5-2. The agreement will not become effective until it is ratified by KIC’s tribal council.

In other business, the board decided to conduct a community survey to inform the search for a permanent superintendent.

Bridget Mattson said she favored giving interim superintendent Beth Lougee the permanent job. Lougee has been on the job since December 2018. Mattson said that the board had been discussing what to do for five months, and that the district now risked losing Lougee to a more stable position elsewhere.

“I will be very blunt. I think that as a school board, by the way that we’re handling this process, we are going to lose a superintendent who has jumped through every hoop that we’ve given her to jump through,” Mattson said. “And we are going to be in a world of hurt.”

But board member Diane Gubatayo said it was important to allow the community to provide input on the process. Jordan Tabb said he hoped a survey by the Alaska Association of School Boards would help the board gauge the public’s preferences.

“My hope is that having timely, professionally conducted community feedback will move the board toward some kind of consensus,” Tabb said.

The results of the survey are due back by the board’s next meeting in mid-January.

Elsewhere in Wednesday’s meeting, 2-term school board president Matt Eisenhower submitted his resignation, which takes effect before the board’s next meeting in January. He cited personal and professional developments that would make it difficult for him to regularly attend board meetings.