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Nome School Board Renews Principal Contracts, Faces Reduced Funding

The Nome-Beltz Nanooks won the Nome Classic Invitational cross country meet this past weekend. Photo: Laura Kraegel, KNOM.

With the start of the new year, renewing staff contracts is a top priority for Nome Public Schools.

At its general meeting Tuesday evening, the Board of Education unanimously approved contracts for the district’s principals: Elizabeth Korenek-Johnson at Nome Elementary School, Lisa Leeper at Anvil City Science Academy, and Jon Berkeley at Nome–Beltz Junior and Senior High School.

The two-year contracts mark a change from the previous norm of one-year contracts for administrators. Superintendent Shawn Arnold calls it “unprecedented.”

We’ve got the greatest stability in 10 years here in Nome Public Schools. This action shows and demonstrates that we’re recognizing that they’re doing a good job. Additional time will give principals space to be a little more daring in their work, helping to meet ambitious goals that we’ve set.

Board members expressed similar enthusiasm. Board member Brandy Arrington echoed Arnold in her comments:

I think it’s really exciting that we’re offering two-year contracts now. We’ve definitely come a long way even since I’ve started on the board, and to see this longevity is really awesome.

The board also approved contracts for the two vice-principals and two other administrative staff. These are only one-year contracts, which Arnold says is less about the staff themselves than about budget concerns.

One position currently up in the air is the college and career guide. In the last three years, the salary came from a grant through the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education. That grant isn’t being renewed for the upcoming school year.

In his superintendent report, Arnold said the district doesn’t have the funding in its budget, so it’s seeking additional funding through local agencies and Native corporations, primarily Kawerak. He says losing the position would have a serious impact:

A lot of times, too, many of our students who are prepared to do very well, it just isn’t on the forefront of their minds, and this is where the guides come in.

Arnold says the district applied to Sitnasuak Native Corporation (SNC) for assistance. None has been received. The corporation is in the midst of a lawsuit involving three of its board members and did not hold a shareholder meeting in 2017. (Disclaimer: SNC was only approached for funding for the college and career guide position. This does not relate to SNC’s other contributions to Nome Public Schools.)

Funding for the college and career guide was part of a larger discussion about an ongoing budget crunch. Arnold says significant staff cuts and efficiency improvements have reduced operating costs by around half a million dollars. But he says they’re about out of options with that.

Arnold says there’s less money coming from the federal government under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and the state will likely flat-fund education this year. The remainder would have to be filled by the city, Arnold says.

I will say this the next few months is that we’re going to lay everything out that we need. If the city doesn’t want to fund it, they don’t have to.

The city has requested to meet with the board for joint sessions in the coming months. The Nome Board of Education will meet for a work session next Tuesday, January 16th, and for its next regular meeting on February 6th.

Image at top: Nome-Beltz High School. Photo: Laura Kraegel, KNOM.