School Board hears of international teachers' status

Nome School Board held their last meeting of the school year June 11, where they heard many public comments and finalized business for the 2023-2024 school year.  
The board will have lots to ruminate over during the two-month break. With the state operating budget on the governor’s desk, they await the fate of the 2025 legislative budget, and what survives Governor Mike Dunleavy’s veto pen. The budget’s signature is due by June 28.
Nome Public Schools created their 2024-2025 budget with the assumption that they will receive the $680 increase to the per student funding formula. They’re also banking on the approval of two of their capital improvement projects, a new roof for Nome-Beltz and a replacement generator. “As soon as we get the contract from the state, which usually comes out in September, that’s their agreement to do it, then we take it back out to bid,” Superintendent Jamie Burgess said.

Public Comments
Ryan Wharry, high school history teacher and assistant coach to the varsity boys’ basketball team, spoke first during public comments. Beginning with a declaration of love for Nome and his job, Wharry expressed the importance of keeping salaries consistent with inflation and cost of living in Nome. “I want to live here 10 years but I’m just not making enough money to really see that longevity,” he said.
This comment was followed by one from Jill Peters who shared Wharry’s sentiment of love for Nome and frustrations regarding compensation through NPS. Employed with the district since 2013, Peters shared that she interviewed for the City’s Museum Director position a year ago, and the position’s salary was the only reason for her to apply. “I take great pride in being a teacher here. Just in this past year I was nominated for Teacher of the Year for the fourth time since winning the award in 2017,” Peters said.
Both teachers gave examples of ways they’ve been restricted in their spending and implored the School Board to consider an increase in salary for teachers. “I signed my contract this year because Nome Public Schools can count on me, my students can count on me, and I need to count on you and trust that you’ll support our teachers so we can teach our children and make enough money to teach our own, thank you for listening,” Peters shared.
Angela Hansen spoke on the 2023-2024 Nome-Beltz Middle High School Student Handbook’s dress code policy which is unspecific about shirts that show mid-drifts and pants with rips, which Hansen cited as “most problematic.” The handbook states: “No student shall be referred to as a distraction due to their appearance or attire.” Hansen said the previous year’s handbook addressed the issues better and could be reinstated. “Students need to learn how to dress appropriately for the environment and tasks that are at hand,” Hansen said.
Johnathan Duarte, Facility Manager, brought up the NANA union custodian contract during public comment, stating it would limit employee contracts if shared by the school district and city as planned.

International Teachers
Adam Lust spoke during the second opportunity for public comment, after the board had gone through most of their agenda. The topic was international teachers, specifically the five that NPS welcomed to the district this year. Four teachers from the Philippines and one from Kenya were hired on H-1B visas in July of 2023, but after a much longer than expected visa process the final teacher arrived end of February. With just a few months left in the school year to get acclimated, only three of the teachers were able to get three-year visas, the others only received one-year visas, to the surprise of Superintendent Jamie Burgess who said the allotment seemed random and was unexpected.
Lust often hosts the international teachers in his home, which also serves as a gathering place for the Filipino teachers of the Bering Strait School District when they’re passing through Nome. Through his conversations with the teachers in both districts, he saw an opportunity for Nome to be a leader in the H-1B visa process. In his comment to the board last week, he referenced two letters he sent to them and Superintendent Burgess.  In his first letter sent April 4, Lust wrote that the teachers who received the one-year visas were now paying for an extension, on top of the agency cost for getting placed in a school. “My goal with this letter is rally support for the school district, the teachers, our children and our community. The H-1B teachers have enabled our district to place qualified professionals in hard to fill positions,” Lust wrote.
Hiring international teachers on an H-1B visa is the district’s attempt at curbing their high turnover rates for teachers. Through this process the visa can be renewed for up to five years, with an opportunity for the district to sponsor their green card afterward, potentially stabilizing the workforce. To hire the teachers, NPS connects with a lawyer and an online agency, the agency connects them with eligible teachers. On both ends a fee is paid to the agency and NPS pays for the legal costs. In his second letter to the board sent May 21, Lust inquired about the relocation cost for the international teachers coming to Nome. NPS provides a stipend to teachers moving to Nome, but with international teachers the money goes toward the downpayment for the visas which cost between $3,000 and $6,000, Burgess told the Nugget during an interview in November 2023. The teachers pay a fee to the agency and to relocate themselves and their families. Many brought a spouse and or children with them.
At the school board meeting, Lust said his letters should have been included in the packet, for the community to access. He concluded with an ask for responses to the questions in his second email.
“We’ve got some phenomenal teachers here in the room tonight. They need to be paid well,” Lust said, referencing the previous public comments from Peters and Wharry. “We need to take really good care of them, just like we need to take care of the two-year teacher, just like we need to take care of the 10-year teacher. It doesn’t take a whole lot to be the confidant, to be the leader. You can’t treat teachers like commodities. It’s not a business transaction. It’s building a community.”

Other Business
The board discussed the school security improvement project, which needs to be put back out to bid after only receiving one bid at a price out of the budget. Burgess said with larger scale projects going on in the region, contractors aren’t as available for minor proposals.  
They voted to approve the food services contract with NANA, payroll, fuel and drayage purchases for the next year and payroll services contract.
The board finished the meeting by going into executive session to discuss contract negotiation for the next year.


The Nome Nugget

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Nome, Alaska 99762

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