A court decision called “Molly Hootch,” named after the Eskimo student for whom the suit was filed, has had a great impact on schooling in the Bush and resulted in the construction of new high schools in some Native villages.
By John Greely
Daily News Reporter
With much chagrin, the lobbyist will tell you that two years ago—in one of the biggest deals ever cut in the legislature—corporate income taxes on the oil industry took a giant leap with the help of Kotzebue’s Democratic Sen. Frank Ferguson.
Ferguson and other members of the Bush caucus pushed for the tax hike because the first $100 million it extracted from the oil companies was dedicated to building rural schools.
Later, in November of 1978, voters approved a $59 million general obligation bond for more schools, signaling an end to decades of inequities for some 3,000 teenagers who had to leave home each fall for a high school education.
Today, with the legality of that oil tax
increase still under debate in the courts, education in many parts or rural
these examples are the extreme, they illustrate some of the growing pains
of a massive education system erected largely in the last five years from
the oil wealth of
“Sure, there are problems,”
In several of the 21 regional education attendance areas (REAAs) created by the legislature in 1975, the local school board is the only formal government residents have. So when elections are on tap, as they are in each school district on Oct. 7, voter interest, if not competition by candidates, is usually keen.
But the school boards—created in the wake of widespread dissatisfaction with the centralized state-operated school system—are hardly in complete command. The state—embodied by two men and two laws—still calls many of the shots.
The two men are
Hohman, who authored the 1975 act setting
up the REAAs, derives some of his influence from his brother, Ron, the
superintendent of the Bering Straits district in
The two laws, meanwhile, include the historic 1975 act and the “Molly Hootch consent decree,” drafted by attorneys for the state and 126 villages seeking construction of local high schools.
Although not a legislative act, the consent decree has the force of law. And although they overlap, both laws give differing degrees of independence to local school officials.
Under the 19754 act, for example, regional school boards are allowed, but not required, to set up advisory committees in the communities they serve. But the consent decree mandates superintendents to “assure maximum on-going local community participation” in school affairs.
This conflict hasn’t surfaced in most of the districts where local advisory committees flourish today.
But in Northwest Alaska, where the villages
of Noorvik, Buckland and
Ironically, the problem of village parents worrying about school policies set by distant administrators was supposed to be solved by the 1975 act disbanding the state’s central administration.
On the other hand, another problem plaguing the new rural schools—high administrative costs—may have been more predictable.
Just as REAAs must pay top salaries to attract
teachers, administrators are lured to the job by contracts making them
among the highest paid public employees in
George White, superintendent at
The Aleutian district, with only 19 teachers
in all, is run by seven administrators, including superintendent Dick Bower,
who earns $62,000 a year while handling his job from headquarters in
Those salary figures, plus the ages-old problems of high fuel and transportation costs, prompted the legislature to set a ceiling this year on administrative costs. From now on, lawmakers decreed, rural schools must spend at least 45 percent of state funds on “instruction.”
An audit of district budgets for the next school year indicates some of the REAAs have a long way to go to get under that ceiling. A legislative committee found last month that between 37 percent and 62 percent of state funds would be spent on “instruction” in 1981-82.
On the average, Department of Education
figures show, the state spends about $6,400, or three times the national
average, to educate one student for a year in rural
Higher costs in the Bush contribute to part of that urban-rural difference. The ability of urban residents to pay for education through property taxes also figures into the equation.
However, in another legacy of Molly Hootch, that burden carried by the city-dweller may soon be lifted, if Gov. Hammond has his way.
Friday: The future of Bush schools—and why city-dwellers should care.
(Part 6 )