Williams says he's well-versed in financing projects

Posted: Friday, September 26, 2003

Dave Williams says he offers the Juneau School Board his experience putting three children through the local public schools, as well as a business degree, experience in financing construction projects and familiarity with financing for health and social services.

He's one of 12 candidates for five open seats on the board.

Williams has served as president of the Floyd Dryden Middle School parent group and has been on a school district committee to review its budget.

He said he was until recently the lead official at the state Department of Health and Social Services in developing an upcoming process to pay school districts state and federal Medicaid funds for certain special-education services.

"The main thing I want to be sure of is to get more revenue into the schools," he said. "If we can get federal dollars in there, that will help offset the other reductions."

Asked for his impressions of the Juneau schools, Williams said: "I have seen change that is positive. There's always been good teachers. Now we have fewer teachers waiting for retirement."

The school district has five formal strategies, which deal with student achievement, Native and other minority student success, healthy behaviors, ensuring a good staff, and communicating with families. The Empire asked candidates to comment on them.

Williams said the district needs to add history, basic government processes and computer basics to the list of reading, writing and arithmetic as the courses of primary importance.

"Other subjects, while important, come second," he said. "It is important to assure that students make adequate progress in these basic areas during their elementary years to equip them for a positive learning experience the remainder of their school years."

Williams said the district must also put a lot of thought into the freshman year of high school.

"You're a lot more on your own, and it's a new world," he said of freshmen. "We really have to be sure they have a positive experience in freshman year, and I think that will be a big indicator of who goes on to graduate."

Williams said the district needs a good vocational program, as well as a good college-preparatory program.

"I think in some ways in the past the vocational program has taken a back seat," he said.

Native students and other minorities, including their parents, must be given every opportunity to succeed, Williams said.

"It's a problem the school experiences, but it's not totally a problem of the schools," he said.

Schools need the active involvement of parents in general, he said.

"We need to engage the parents at the grassroots level to make decisions about schools," he said.

The school board must challenge parents and teachers to encourage self-esteem in students. As an example, he cited Floyd Dryden's recognition of good work and citizenship by students.

"Good self-esteem lets students know they are smart enough to make good decisions about themselves, to value their personal safety, health and learning," Williams said.

The next school board is likely to have to approve a new teachers contract. A nonbinding arbitration is scheduled for early October. In addition, the school district anticipates a budget shortfall of $3 million next school year.

Williams said teachers should be well-paid and the basic academic subjects addressed in the budget.

"If the revenues are down in one area, I'd like to find more revenues. I believe I can help the board find new revenues," he said.

Williams said the project to build a high school at Dimond Park in the Mendenhall Valley will require oversight and "many, many choices."

"I want to see the Valley high school be a construction project that is well-designed and comes in without cost overruns," he said.

• Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.

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