Meet the candidates: Martha Fleming , District 6 school board

Fleming is running unopposed.

Martha Fleming is running for the East Peninsula seat on the Kenai Peninsula School District Board of Education. According to her candidate file, Fleming is a retired counselor and teacher. Fleming has spent the last 26 years as a counselor and teacher at Seward High School and is currently a commissioner for the City of Seward Planning and Zoning Commission, according to her file. She is running unopposed.

Why are you running?

I have just retired from the Kenai Peninsula School District and I’ve always liked politics and liked being part of the community in different various ways. I’m on Planning and Zoning, and I’ve been on the hospital board, and so since I’ve retired I’m a little bit afraid of “retirement.” And so I thought I would put my name in. I’m also friends with Lynn Hohl, the current school board member for my area in Seward, and she’s been waiting for me to retire because she knew that I liked politics enough to run for it.

What do you hope to accomplish should you be elected to the school board?

Well, I think I’ll be elected, because there’s nobody going against me. I’m hoping that we can keep the ship going that is our school district that is so powerful and good. It’s gonna be real challenging in the state and in the district with the borough, and I don’t mind going to Juneau and I don’t mind going to Washington. I like politics enough that I’ll go speak to people and bug them and try to get funding. I believe there’s ways that I think we can make it, it’s just really a tough time in education for our state. I think I’m a good voice, I’ve been a counselor at Seward High for 26 years and I was an aide a little bit before then, and I also worked in the cannery. I’ve done a lot of different things and I know the system, so when administration is talking I think I understand what pools of money they’re talking about and where it’s been before and how it’s gonna go.

What sort of challenges does the school district face in the next three years, and how do you hope you can address those issues?

Finances are going to be the biggest issue no matter what in Alaska. As I said, I’m willing to work my way through Juneau, through the borough assembly, and try to advocate for students and parents in education loudly and with good intent. As I said, I think I know what I’m talking about, like when they say PTR (pupil- teacher ratio) I know exactly what that means. I’ve just been part of the system long enough that I think I have an edge compared to somebody who’s a layperson, and I’m willing to go and do it.

With limited funding coming from the state and the borough, how should the school board work to create a balanced budget?

I think it’s a constant change. There’s no one answer to any of the fiscal challenges. What would be the best is if we got good grants, if we could actually get a good grant writer to get some of the grants that are out there. So looking at what we have, I know it’s a very unpopular thing, but we do have pools that cost a lot. Seward High runs on diesel, it’s very expensive, and they work hard at changing the air flow so that we’re being as economical as we can. I think there’s other ways to do it. Even if it might cost a little bit upfront, it would help in the long run for many, many years. Students are all into being eco- and environmentally friendly so let’s have them decide and help us with some of the challenges. The pools themselves, something has to happen. We talked about, at one point, putting a cover on a pool. Guess what? Putting a cover on a pool would save a lot of money. It still hasn’t been done because it does cost a huge amount, but there’s probably other ways to make the pools be more economical. The sports I think are great. I think there’s maybe some that are more expensive that might need to go. I know that’s not popular, but Seward High, which is 180 students, has nine varsity sports. That’s a lot, let alone drama, debate, all those other things. It might just be that some years, if there’s only 10 kids out for something, then maybe that shouldn’t be going that year. It’ll be hard. And as far as the teachers, they’re working hard. I don’t think we can have any less teachers to make it OK for kids. You’ve gotta think of the kids first, and I know sports are part of it but maybe we need to do a little more district fundraising, like a grant from a professional team, that would help fund our sports without having parents always be looking for dollars for fundraisers. I think we burn out parents and later they don’t vote for things because they’re burnt out, and we need to keep people wanting to fund our schools.

The district lost a record number of teachers and staff last year. Teacher retention is a growing issue in Alaska, so what can the district do to attract and retain the best educators?

Well, I’ll tell you what, the contract has been a problem. The way that the district went to the table in the contract negotiations has been wrong from the beginning as far as I’m concerned. Having a lawyer being paid and having someone that’s just their PR person, you know I think they went about it wrong and it bit them in the butt. They might have won a few of the battles because lawyers can, but I think they need to go at the negotiations for the next time with a little bit more common sense. We don’t wanna take all year to do it, let’s get it done in three months and if we need to get into our fund balance we might need to get into our fund balance here and there. Government funding, government accounting, it is very different than other accounting. And I know that, and I understand the fund balance issue, although I’m not sure why it’s always such a big deal to hold so much money. So I have to learn more, but I want the district to come at the next contract ready to work with the teachers and the unions. I really feel like we started off right from the get-go with animosity, and that’s what made it go so long, and it was very ugly. We’re not going to be able to keep good teachers that way, and I’ve seen good teachers leave already. But there’s also some great teachers that have stayed, so we want to help them.

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