Rural school decisions

Letter to the editor

Posted: Thursday, November 06, 2003

Sen. Con Bunde, in a Nov. 3 rebuttal to my letter about Alaska's rural schools, argues that the legislators merely want what is best for Alaska's kids. When you view the school situation through his unique perspective, all the responsibility for school decisions lies everywhere other than the Alaska Legislature. After all, Congress passed the no child left behind act, the school districts and Department of Education are deciding how teachers will demonstrate their qualifications, and rural parents are the political force behind creating more Mt. Edgecumbe-style high schools. "If rural residents support additional schools such as Mt. Edgecumbe, the Legislature will certainly evaluate that. Not the other way around," he claims. And so the legislators are just servants of the people, sensitive to their needs.

So who is out of touch? Education is constitutionally a responsibility of the state. The state of Alaska does decide how to fashion its compliance with federal laws. The state of Alaska decided how to settle Alaska Native Claims act to enable the oil to flow. The state of Alaska consented to build a bunch of rural school buildings, but with great foresight is not committed to provide programs in those communities. Since there is rural sentiment for more Mt. Edgecumbes, growing for over a generation by now, the Alaska Legislature is well positioned to help them out and move to the more efficient boarding school solution. Many people, some of them rural parents, would say that those Hootch Schools have already served their purpose. Like the Dew Line Radar sites which sit not far away from many coastal villages, those school buildings have outlived their original mission and may soon also be abandoned and dark. If and when they do go away, along with them will go the jobs and local identities that schools create. The Legislature will have to decide that - no one else.

However, I will still apologize to Senator Bunde for assuming, in my recent letter, that legislators as a group share any one idea or motive in the drama of rural school changes. I do remember that it is unfair to paint all legislators with the same brush. Most usually do speak as if they want to do what's best for Alaska's kids. As for action, each will do what best serves the budget of their own district, of course. In that behavior we can expect to see an opportunity for changes to rural schools that move budget resources elsewhere. It is the nature of legislators to point the finger elsewhere, as does Con Bunde - toward the Congress, to the School District, to DOE, to Mt. Edgecumbe graduates. So their opportunism is always still there in action. You do have to watch, to stay in touch.

Senator Bunde finishes his letter with an "ad hominum" flourish. I lived eight years and winters in coastal Alaskan villages teaching high school kids and six years in Juneau with DOE helping legislators understand the needs out there. Mr. Bunde says I'm offensive and out of touch, but maybe some Alaskans think that Mr. Bunde has lived in Anchorage and Juneau too much, and is just staying in touch with those constituents and with acting like a legislator. Perhaps he just couldn't pass up the opportunity.

Tom Ryan

Lakebay Wash.

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