Candidates, School Tax Issue Go Before Voters

Category: News
Created on Friday, 27 September 2013 23:29
Published on Friday, 27 September 2013 23:29
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By SHANNON HAUGLAND
Sentinel Staff Writer
    Sitka voters will go to the polls Tuesday to cast their ballots for two Assembly candidates and one Sitka School Board member, and weigh in on a ballot measure.
    Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Centennial Hall, where there will be stations for Sitka’s two voting precincts.
    Running for the two open Assembly seats are Aaron Swanson and Ben Miyasato and write-in candidate Steven Eisenbeisz. The two elected will replace Thor Christianson and Michelle Putz, whose terms on the Assembly are ending this year.
    The candidates for the one open seat on the School Board are incumbent Lon Garrison and Stephen Courtright.
    There is also a ballot proposition, placed on the ballot by the Assembly as a way to make about $380,000 more funds available annually for schools and general government purposes.
    Approval of the ballot question would allow the city to pay for school bonds going back to 1996 with proceeds from the 1 percent summertime sales tax instead of the general fund. This will require the seasonal tax to be extended about years beyond the date that it would otherwise expire. But by shifting the bond costs out of the general fund, the city would have more money for such purposes as roads, other city infrastructure and schools, sponsors say.
    The question asks:
    “Shall the City and Borough of Sitka pay its remaining general obligation bonds authorized by the voters in 1996 for Baranof Elementary and Sitka High School improvements through the 1 percent additional seasonal sales tax collected from April 1 to September 30, instead of from the general fund, estimated to be approximately $380,000 a year. Yes or No.”
    The informational note on the ballot states that approval of the proposition would continue the 1 percent seasonal sales tax about two years. “Additional seasonal sales tax surplus exists to pay for the general obligation bonds. General fund monies not required to pay these general obligation bonds could be used for other general/government and educational needs and/or could reduce the need to reduce the need to reduce governmental services.”

    The ordinance to place the question on the ballot was co-sponsored by Mike Reif and Thor Christianson.
    Reif said he worked with city staff on putting the question together, and that if passed it will make much-needed additional revenue available to the city.
    “I think it’s an excellent idea,” he said. “The town appears to have embraced the seasonal sales tax to pay for school improvements. We get 70 percent, or 60 percent ... reimbursement from the state on the school projects, so it’s a good value for the community.” (The reimbursement formula for school bond costs is not affected by the ballot proposition.)
    The seasonal sales tax, which is 6 percent instead of the usual 5 percent, began in 2003 as a way to raise funds for the Sitka Performing Arts Center. Over the years – in 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2011 – voters have approved applying seasonal tax proceeds to other school projects, while extending the time the temporary tax will be in place.
    “It’s been an interesting challenge following the 2003 bonds,” said City Finance Director Jay Sweeney, who helped on the latest bond payment concept, as well as the ballot question language.
    The debt service of the 1996 Sitka High and Baranof Elementary School bonds has always been paid with revenue from the city’s regular sales and property taxes. Approval of this ballot measure would mean that all school bonds are being paid for by the seasonal sales tax, while adding a couple of years to the date the seasonal tax will end.
    School Board President Lon Garrison and Mayor Mim McConnell said they are in favor of this approach.
    “We’re very supportive of it,” Garrison said, speaking for the School Board. “We’re very appreciative of the Assembly moving forward on this in an effort to free up general funds that can be used for schools. It’s a priority for our schools. I think it makes good sense. It’s good fiscal policy.”
    McConnell agrees.
    “I think it’s a great idea, and I hope it passes,” she said. “It will be nice to have the repayment not coming out of the general fund. It will help when it comes to education. I envision a struggle coming up with money the school district needs. And it would help with infrastructure. It’s been a long-standing issue. ... We have a lot of important issues that need to be addressed.”
    Sweeney said he liked the creative thinking that led to the ballot question.
    “It’s pretty ingenious,” he said. “This is a way to use an existing approved extension mechanism to provide additional resources for the general government expenditures and it doesn’t raise the tax burden now. People aren’t paying more taxes. People from outside Sitka are helping. The idea is taking advantage of the (influx of summer) visitors.”
    The five candidates on Tuesday’s ballot have submitted the following personal statements:

Benjamen Miyasato
Assembly Candidate
    My name is Benjamen Miyasato and I am running for a seat on the city Assembly. I was born and raised here in Sitka, and went to school here from kindergarten through high school.
    My work experience to date includes 20 years in the banking industry and 20 years in the Alaska Army National Guard. I served two deployments overseas and earned the Combat Infantry Badge. I retired from the Alaska Guard with the rank of Staff Sergeant.
    Currently, I am serving on the Sitka Tribe of Alaska Council as its vice chairman. This has been a valuable and rewarding learning experience for me. I have participated in council meetings and have presided over them also in the absence of our chairman. Here is a list of the committees I have served on or am currently serving: finance, transportation, veterans, herring, cultural customary and traditional.
    My philosophy while serving on STA council is do what is right for our Tribal citizens and for Sitka Tribe of Alaska. If I am elected to city Assembly my aim is to make informed, common sense decisions for the city of Sitka and its citizens. I would greatly appreciate your vote on Oct. 1.
Aaron Swanson
Assembly Candidate
    I was born at Sitka Community Hospital Dec. 3, 1981, the son of Lloyd and Vicki Swanson. I attended grade school here until the end of the first semester of sixth grade. After this point I moved to Washburn, Wis., with my parents where I graduated from Washburn High School in 2000. While attending high school I was learning how to remodel houses while working for my father. This would eventually be the trade that would bring me back to Sitka.
    After high school I attended the University of Wisconsin Platteville. While there I decided that college would not be the right fit for me, so I packed up and traveled around doing some concrete work in Bozeman, Mont., working for Hallind Construction. From there I spent some time in Kent, Wash., before returning to Wisconsin. When I returned to Wisconsin I started working for McRae True Value and also helping my parents fix their rental houses.
    Soon I would find myself returning to Sitka for a brief period of time to help my father and uncle reconstruct my father’s vacant warehouse into townhouses. I knew when I returned to do the work that I would eventually want to return to my old home, but would still have to wait a few months to move back here. After we finished the townhouses we returned to Wisconsin and my parents soon moved back to Sitka leaving me behind to manage their rental properties.
    About six months after I took over the rental properties I received a call from my brother-in-law about a job opening with Misty Fjords Water Co., which I took the job to move back to Sitka. I started working at the water company and carried out the day-to-day operations of the company which included getting the water from the well, bottling the water, delivering it to customers and maintenance of the equipment. I stayed with the company after being offered partial ownership  until it was eventually sold in February of 2007.
    At this time I was considering returning to Wisconsin if I could not find work; however it did not take long for me to find a job working for Arrowhead Transfer Inc., where I started as a delivery driver after getting my class B CDL. When Arrowhead Transfer purchased the rights to the propane customers from Service Transfer I started driving and delivering propane for ATI, three years later I got my class A CDL and now in addition to the propane I also drive semi truck for the company.
    I met my wife Sheryl in the fall of 2006 and we had our first son, Jacob, September of 2007. We decided to get married in March of 2008 and had another son John September of 2009. Since we have been married we have had a lot of struggles getting her immigration status sorted out. After years of struggle and attorney fees, we were able to gain her a permanent resident card. Sheryl is currently employed at Mt. Edgecumbe High School as an RA.
    I ran for Assembly in 2012, and after an unsuccessful attempt, I joined the Police and Fire Commission, which I am currently the chairperson. After much consideration and much support from members of the public I have decided to seek election again in 2013. I feel that I could be an asset to the public by serving on the Assembly. I am a hard worker who doesn’t stop until the job is done right. My phone is always open to any input and public concerns, I will do my best to see that the right thing is done in the best interest of the public and the City and Borough of Sitka.
    I would appreciate your vote this year and thank you for your continued support.
    I would appreciate your vote for Assembly in October and look forward to listening to what the people of Sitka want.
Stephen Courtright
School Board Candidate
    When the Courtright family moved to Sitka, it was intended as a two-year stay at minimum to see if everything would work out. Well before the end of the first year, everyone in the family knew that two years wouldn’t be nearly enough. With a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old in the house, both parents now occasionally speculate about which public high school is more likely to seem attractive to which child.
    Born and raised in suburban Ohio, I attended public schools K-12 before studying music education at college in Michigan. I was in professional development meetings in 2004 where teachers were already laughing about No Child Left Behind and pointing out that it was hilariously impossible to have 100 percent of students proficient at 100 percent of tested subjects by 2014 (or ever) without lowering the bar of the test so far as to make the results completely invalid. It has been my experience ever since that teachers see and understand the flaws in federal and state policy long before the media and general public begin to discuss those flaws.
    Five years of teaching in rural Arizona and more than three years of teaching in Alaska have intensified my understanding that education policy is well-meaning but deeply flawed at multiple levels. I have a passion for seeing that local schools and students are protected from bad policy to the greatest extent possible. With a philosophy that indicates that the whole child must be taught, this protection becomes even more important and more difficult. I have a willingness to ask the questions that are normally left unasked and a willingness to challenge even the most long-held of traditions in search of the best education and the best experiences for developing children. Simply put, I do not believe in sacred cows.
    Beyond the belief that the whole child must be nurtured, I believe that the schools are a community resource. In Sitka (as elsewhere), this is sometimes taken quite literally, and our school facilities are used extensively for community activities. In a non-literal sense, the schools represent the values of the community. I believe that they must be a force for equity and for the preservation and inculcation of culture and must shape our children into the type of adults that are needed for the future of the community. Most importantly, I believe that these children must grow into the kind of adults who can succeed regardless of what that future resembles.
    I am a professional educator who believes that the highest calling of a community is to be the kind of place where children are nurtured so well that they stick around to raise their own children in the same community. If elected to the Sitka School Board, I intend to do everything in my power to ensure that Sitka will continue to be that kind of place.

Steven Eisenbeisz
Write-In Assembly Candidate
    Sitka is my home. Just as it is yours. We live here as a community. Let’s come up with solutions as a community.
    My name is a Steven Eisenbeisz. I come before you today as a write-in candidate for Assembly. Before I discuss the issues, let’s take a look at my background.
    Back in 1992, my mother Debbie, brother Jason and I loaded everything we owned, including the family car, onto a fishing boat and headed north. Ever since, my family has called Sitka home. Housing was limited at the time, and for a short period we lived on that boat. Weekends were often filled with commercial fishing trips, and the excitement of growing up surrounded by Alaska.
    Right out of high school I enlisted in the Marine Corps, for a four-year term, 2004-2008. Serving in the infantry, I deployed to Iraq three times, first as a leader of a small two-man team, then as a leader of an entire 12-man squad. It is amazing how much you can learn as a 20-year-old kid who is responsible for the lives of your team members. Fortunately, all of the Marines that served under me were able to return home.
    Towards the end of my service in the Marine Corps, my future was somewhat undecided. I returned to the United States after a deployment, and came home to Sitka to see family. During this short trip home I realized Sitka was calling me back. Little did I know, my future wife was visiting Sitka at the same time, and making the same decision to move home. I met my wife, Ashley (McClain) Eisenbeisz within a few weeks of my arrival in Sitka. We were married in summer 2011.
    Upon moving home in late 2008 I was hired as a rental manager at Davis Realty. Shortly I was in charge of over 50 residential rentals, several commercial buildings, and later the former Sheldon Jackson College campus. A continued decline in the real estate market lead me to find a new job and for the next two years I worked in the city jail as a corrections officer. My retirement came early from the department, when my wife and I purchased Russell’s from her family, allowing the business to become a third-generation family-owned company. During this time in Sitka I have volunteered with Sitka Mountain Rescue, Sitka Fire Department as a firefighter/EMT and served on the Police and Fire Commission.
    Now, why a write-in campaign for Assembly? With a last name like Eisenbeisz, isn’t it hard enough to remember, let alone spell? Shouldn’t I have made the filing deadline, and have my name on the ballot? Well, yes. That would have been much easier. However, I had not strongly considered running in this election. Becoming an Assembly member was a goal for me in the future, however. My mind was made up when I saw Sitka would not have a chance to choose in this election, with two candidates running for two seats. I opened discussions with many members of the community, and all of them strongly supported having a choice. More importantly they supported my ambition and candidacy.
    Finally, on to the issues that are so important to Sitka. Where do I stand on the new ideas coming into our town, and on problems that we have faced for some time now? My views on the issues will be entirely different from most candidates. Most people would come forward with their own agenda, trying to further special interest groups they support. Not me. I prefer to listen to the community, pulling everyone’s ideas in to an option formed by all. Even the people who disagree with the idea can add to the discussion, possibly removing the one thorn in the entire project.         This concept may not go over well with all. I’m sure some people feel that an Assembly member is elected for their desire to implement certain policy. To me, this is big-city thinking. Sitka is a small community. Any change that happens in Sitka should be wanted by the citizens. Big projects such as the Blue Lake dam should be put out to a vote. I strongly believe that if you let the people lead, they will take you in the right direction.
    In closing I want to be the people’s candidate. I want everyone to know that I am available to discuss whatever concerns them, good or bad. Our money runs this city, we need to stand up and say how we want it spent. It is up to us whether we want to grow, or remain the same. And remember, at the polling station Alaska Statute states that my name does not need to be spelled right, and a sheet can be provided with the correct spelling. You must remember to fill in the bubble next to the space provided for a write in candidate, or the vote will not count.
Lon Garrison
School Board Candidate
    Hello, my name is Lon Garrison and I am running for the Sitka School Board. I was first elected to the board in 2007 and then again in 2010; this will be my third time running for the board.
    I believe this is a critically important election. The Sitka School Board and public education as a whole are facing unprecedented challenges and potential changes. We face the selection of a new superintendent for the first time in 13 years, this is a huge responsibility that will have major ramifications on how our school district and our students advance and achieve in the future. I believe it is critically important to have a knowledgeable, objective board member with leadership experience to help guide the board through this process. I believe I am the right person for this task.
    The district faces an unprecedented amount of work to adopt new state standards, implement curriculum and instruction to align to those standards, implement new online standards testing and finally to implement a new teacher evaluation process; all by 2016! It is a very tall order! In order to do that we will need both an excellent administration and a school board prepared to take the time to do the work needed to make this happen. In my view, this will take experience, leadership, and the full commitment of every board member.
    In my six years on the board I have tried to take advantage of every occasion to educate and train myself to be the best board member I can be. I have had the opportunity to be involved statewide as a member of the Association of Alaska School Boards (AASB) Board of Directors, nationally as a member of several committees with the National School Boards Association and as a    board member of the National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition. All of these opportunities have allowed me to work on my leadership skills and to bring back ideas and perspectives that I believe can improve our board and our district. I believe these are the skills that will matter most as we move forward to address the challenges I just spoke of.
    I would like to highlight some distinct differences between myself and my opponent in this race. Mr. Courtright has indicated that he is not running against me; however, there is only a single vacating seat on the board. Unlike Mr. Courtwright, I am not a professional educator; I am a dedicated, committed community member who has supported two daughters that have received an excellent public education from the Sitka School District. In my experience as a school board member and AASB president and director, I have gained both knowledge and experience regarding education and the public process and I come to the board table without any potential professional bias. My position on the School Board will always be non-partisan.
    A major challenge to public education and local school districts is at the state and federal level. At no time in our history have state and federal governments tried to wield their authority more than today. They seek to reduce or eliminate local control of education, to impose a “one size fits all” solution. Over the past six years as a School Board member, I have developed my skills in advocating for public education. I have spent many, many hours working to educate and advance our cause with state legislators each session. Most politicians have a limited knowledge of what it takes to run a school district, to educate kids, to provide the basic human right of a free and high quality education no matter who you are or where you come from.
    In working with the Legislature, I have found that we may have differences of opinion and approach, but it is up to me as an advocate for the Sitka School District to find solutions that work in our best interest and not build barriers.    I believe the relationships I have developed and the recognition I have with the Legislature as a leader in education will serve both Sitka and our state well. Furthermore, I know the commitment and the amount of work it will take and I am ready, willing and able to do it!
    I offer a familiar, experienced face to the board. When there is so much at stake, it is critically important to have a board that has the capacity to objectively contemplate all of the hard decisions we have to make. We need now, more than ever a board member who has the school board experience, the leadership skills and the broad perspective of what education has been and could be for Sitka. I ask for your support and your vote to re-elect me to the Sitka School Board on Oct. 1, 2013.