RUNNING: Hear from the Anchorage School Board candidates

Alaska Public Media’s RUNNING series featuring candidates for the April 7 Anchorage municipal election will air on Hometown Alaska over four episodes.

  • Monday March 16: Anchorage School Board candidates (See list above)
  • Tuesday March 17: Anchorage Assembly candidates, Downtown and Eagle River Chugiak
  • Monday March 23: Anchorage Assembly candidates, West and Midtown
  • Tuesday March 24: Anchorage Assembly candidates, East and South

Candidates on each segment will have the opportunity to make an opening statement about why they are running and why they are qualified to serve. Next, they’ll respond to questions from the host. We will also take email and phone calls from the listening public during the program. Your questions are welcome throughout the program. Check below for the number and email to use to join in on the conversation.

Monday programs will air again at 8 pm that same evening. Tuesday programs will air again at 7 pm that same evening. In addition, the shows will be available on Alaska Public Media’s RUNNING for listening anytime.

UPDATE FOR LISTENERS: At approximately 14:47 minutes into this program, a technical difficulty removed the ability for listeners to hear the program. This break lasted almost one minute. occurring as one candidate responded to a question. The break has been trimmed to 3 seconds so you know where it occurred. We apologize for this disruption and thank you for tuning into the RUNNING 2020 series for the Anchorage municipal election on April 7.

Monday, March 16, 2020


HOST: Kathleen McCoy

GUESTS:

  • James Smallwood, school board candidate seat C
  • Dave Donley, school board candidate seat C
  • Andy Holleman, school board candidate seat D
  • Phil Isley, school board candidate seat D
  • JC Cates, school board candidate seat D

LINKS:

  • Voting information, Municipality of Anchorage website
  • Full list of school board and assembly candidates, muni.org, right hand margin
  • 13 ballot propositions, including alcohol tax, onsite marijuana smoking and adding a seat to Downtown District 1, etc. muni.org webpage

TRANSCRIPT:

Kathleen McCoy: Let’s get started with our first set of school board candidates. So that would be, welcome to James Smallwood. James, welcome to Hometown, Alaska.

James Smallwood: Thank you.

KM: And also Dave Donley, who is joining us by phone. Hi, Dave.

Dave Donley: Hi, thanks for having us today.

KM: Very glad to have you. So I’m going to start with opening statements. And I’m just going to go ahead and say, Dave, your alphabet name comes up first. So let’s hear your opening statement. Why are you running and how are you qualified to serve?

DD: Well, I was born and raised here in Anchorage, old Providence hospital, graduated from Dimond High School, went on to University of Oregon and the University of Washington School of Law. Put myself through law school working as a labor, construction worker, logger, and I served as a firefighter at the terminal camp the last year of the Alaska Pipeline construction. Passed my bar exam in same year I graduated from law school, in 1979, represented, was elected in 1986 to represent Spenard in the state house, the neighborhood I grew up in. And I was there for six years where I’ve served as the labor and commerce chair twice and judiciary chair once. Then I was elected to the State Senate where I served for 10 years, where I was mostly on the Senate Finance Committee where I was also the vice chair and finally, the co-chair in charge of the operating budget. While I was Vice Chair, I did the capital budget when oil dip down to eight to $10 a barrel. That was a really challenging time. After leaving the legislature, I served as chief of adjudications and hearing officer for the state of Alaska, retired from the state back in 2008, and also from labor’s local 341. Worked in private practice and represented hope community resources for a while.

KM: So Dave, can you wrap that up.

DD: And currently serving as the Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Administration for the state of Alaska, and I have a wife, Jamie, and three children, two of which are in sixth grade here in Anchorage School District.

KM: All right. Thank you very much, Dave. James, we’re going to go to you and invite the same opening statement.

JS: Okay. My name is James Smallwood. I grew up here in Alaska, too, here in Anchorage. My dad was in the military so he was stationed at Fort Rich, and from there I attended Wonder Park and Nunaka and went to Clark, and then graduated from East High. And from there I, you know, did a little bit of here at UAA, but I left and went to Portland and graduated from Portland State. And then didn’t think I was ever going to come back up here to Alaska, but my family wound up, moving back up here to Alaska, my son and my wife. I have served as a youth pastor. I worked as a as an educational advocate for the NAACP, and my wife and I we’re a part of the safe family program, and we just been involved in education and children’s lives for quite some time now. And definitely looking forward to this, to get on the school board to really figure out a way on how we can ensure that our kids are going to be successful when it comes to education. And my two boys, they do attend public school right now, over at Polaris, and I’m definitely grateful to be here.

KM: Okay. Thank you very much. So now I’m going to start with some questions. And I’m going to go to you first, James. State funding for schools continues to decline, including shifting responsibility from the state to cities and boroughs for bonds passed years ago. Do you have ideas for funding and spending models that could bridge this growing gap?

JS: So I do have some ideas, whether we could do it at this moment or not, I don’t know. I know that there’s a big call to make a lot of cuts and one of the areas I think that we should really look at when it comes to healthcare in the in the district, paid for claims is going to be really high, and I think that if there’s some way that there could be some type of negotiation with the providers, in order for them to be able to lower the cost of claims, that could help out significantly, too. But also apparently they have a large amount of real estate assets, and I’m kind of curious how we can make a profit off of that. I don’t know if there needs to be a charter change that needs to happen, but if funding is not coming in, we really do have to look at other ways to be able to produce revenue. And one of the ways is we could look at what does what does real estate look like, and how we’ll be able to do some with that.

KM: Okay. So Dave Donley, same question for you: state funding declining for schools. Do you have ideas for funding and spending models that could bridge this this huge gap?

DD: Well back in 1996, I was a group of five senators that actually wrote the current funding formula for the state of Alaska for schools. It was a — people said it couldn’t be done. There hadn’t really been a comprehensive formula before then. If you get a chance to go look at my website, Dave Donley dot com or Dave for ASD dot com, there’s a there’s a portion of that that shows how the school foundation formula works. And one of the key components is the district cost differential. And we had a study done, because cost of delivering education is different than the consumer price index. It has different elements. So we had the university do a study, and came back with a differential. And back then, 25 years ago, Anchorage was the base. It was one, and everybody else got something more than Anchorage based on the actual costs of delivering education in those areas. Well, that differential needs to be updated frequently, at least once every 10 years. Currently though it hasn’t been updated in almost 15 years. And it’s very clear from other information we have that Anchorage is no longer the cheapest place to deliver the cost of education in Alaska, mostly because housing in certain areas has gone down below Anchorage’s. And there are some estimates that that could bring an additional $30 million to the Anchorage School District. Now, our gap this last year was $19 million to maintain a status quo budget, so that would more than fill that gap. And it wouldn’t be asking for additional state spending. It’d be asking for a reallocation of the current amount of state education spending based on the empirical data, the actual proof of what it costs to deliver education in Anchorage versus other districts.

KM: Okay, Dave, thank you for that. I’m going to go on to another question. And Dave, this one, I’ll start with you. What should the district do to attract retain highly qualified teachers.

DD: Well, professional advancement and training is a key component in education. And so we need to continue to maximize our efforts to provide those opportunities to school district employees to advance their capabilities and their training and their ability to provide those excellent classroom services. So that’s really important. And the board did vote last month, I believe, to begin researching what it would take to restore Social Security to school district employees. About 30 years ago or more, there was a decision that school district employees were opted out of Social Security. But that back then, that’s when we had a defined pension plan. Now that we no longer have a defined pension, we have a defined contribution plan., it might be appropriate and it certainly is appropriate to examine how to go about and how much it would cost to restore Social Security to employees that were interested in doing that. And I think that would also assist in retention.

DD: Okay. As I understand it, the school district employees do not qualify for Social Security. And, you know, the defined benefit plan has disappeared. So I’ll take that question to you, James. What should the district do to attract and retain highly qualified teachers?

JS: Well, I do definitely agree that there needs to be changed when it comes to retirement. I do believe that you do need to go back to defined benefits versus defined contribution. That will help out tremendously. Then also, in addition to that, I do think that there needs to be a lot more support for teachers in general. Actually, not too long ago, I was talking to a teacher and she was fed up, she was ready to leave and pack up and go, just because she did not have the support that she should have had from her from her supervisor. And so when they have that conflict there, when there’s not a great working environment, that’s a problem that’s going to drive teachers out. So it’s important to make sure that our teachers are being supported, giving them the freedom to be able to execute the things that they need to do and be able to know that they got the right training and that they feel confident enough to be able to teach students. But definitely support, definitely need to be able to make a huge change when it comes to retirement too.

KM: Okay, we do have a caller and we’d like to bring these calls on to the show. I’d like to welcome Les to running 2020 on hometown, Alaska. Hi, Les.

CALLER: Hi, Kathleen. Out the outset I’ll say I’m supporting James, so there’s my bias. But I can’t let Dave sort of talk about his 1990s record without setting it straight. It was a record of education funding that fell behind inflation. The formula he talked about was badly panned for discriminating against rural Alaska districts, so it was fixed. And the whole proposal to take money away from rural Alaska to help Anchorage is you don’t think ships to float your own. And and then finally, Mr. Donley had a hard time when Governor Dunleavy proposed $200 million in education cuts last year to do anything other than standby silently when James so that was wrong. So that’s not a record that’d be that proud of, bigger class sizes and cuts in education flooding behind inflation.

KM: Okay, Les and I don’t hear a question but it was more of a comment and we thank you so much for calling in weighing in.

CALLER: Thanks.

KM: Let’s see. I’m going to go with a question now. This is for James. In your opinion, is the Anchorage School District doing too much testing, too little, and why do you feel that way?

JS: You have to test the students. But however, I do think that the testing does not necessarily give you the whole story. And whether we’re doing the PEAK testing or whatever standardized testing that they’re doing, I think it’s important to, you know — it captured that one moment, but it doesn’t necessarily tell you the improvement that they’re really making within the classroom. So whether they’re doing too much testing or not enough testing, I think it’s kind of an all-in perspective on.

KM: So you think we put too much stock in it?

JS: Well, I think we do. I think a lot of times when we look at the testing and we say that every kid has to hit this certain number, but you know, a lot of times kids aren’t necessarily prepared to even take that test that day or or whatever the situation is that’s happening, but it doesn’t necessarily give the whole story. Now you need to test, and I know my oldest son would probably disagree with me, but you do need to test students to see where they are when it comes to benchmarking, but I don’t think that what we see now it gives the complete story. So there should be at least some caveat to some of these tests.

KM: Okay. Dave Donley, same question for you is the Anchorage School District doing too much testing too little and why do you feel that way?

DD: Well, I want to go back to what Les said. My last two years in the legislature I was co chair of Senate Finance, and I prioritize education funding. In fact, we early funded the schools those years, so there wouldn’t be the pink slip problem that we’ve seen more recently with education.

KM: Okay, David, and how about just a quick answer on this testing question, because I hear a lot about it from parents who are concerned about it. So what’s your thoughts? They’re too much or too little?

DD: Well, actually, I think it is too much, but we’re working on a way to make it better. And that would be by getting the MAP tests, which are really excellent — the measures of academic progress — combined with the state required tests in a way that we could reduce from three tests a year down to just two. If we can get the federal government and the state government to agree that our MAP testing is sufficient to not have to do testing that the federal government requires, that would be a huge step forward in reducing the amount of testing time. Overall, testing is a very small portion of the school year, but still, I think it becomes overwhelming at some times.

KM: All right. So I’m going to just share our phone numbers for folks if they have questions for these two seat C school board candidates: 550-8433 in Anchorage or email at Hometown (at) Alaska public dot org. Dave, this question is going to go to you. Do you support the 2020 school bond on the April 7 ballot? Why or why not?

DD: I am voting for the school bond because I don’t think as a community we have any choice but to repair the damage, the earthquake damage that occurred. We need the schools repaired, up and running. It’s particularly challenging and difficult for our friends out in Eagle River. We have to just step up and get this done. There are elements of the bond that I do not support, but the overall bond I am going to support.

KM: Okay. James, we’re going to go to you and ask you the same question. Do you support the 2020 school bond on the April 7 ballot and why or why not?

JS: I absolutely do. I believe that that we need to be able to repair schools, especially those schools that were hit by their earthquake. I think that we’re investing in not just our schools, but our students, too, when we are supporting the bond package now. And I get the idea that people are worried about their property taxes going up, but if we’re going to invest in anything, I do believe that we should invest in our schools and make sure that the infrastructure is is solid. But I also want to point out that my opponent did not vote for the bond package as a school board member, so I’m glad that he’s gonna vote for it. I’m not at the ballot box, but he did not vote for as a school board member.

KM: The CDC reports that anxiety and depression can affect school aged children, and that the numbers of children affected are increasing over time. In your view, does a school district do enough to help students with depression and anxiety? I’m going to go to you, James.

JS: So when we’re dealing with mental health, I’m gonna honestly say no. I should say some teachers are, and I’ve seen some teachers have done wonderful jobs, at least turn things around. In fact, I was talking with a teacher a couple weekends ago that was at a school that was very challenging when it came to children that came in there with a lot of a lot of trauma. However, she’s doing the best she can to ensure that that things are getting turned around, but she doesn’t have the support that she needs. And we need to be able to have enough counselors be able to help kids that are coming in there with trauma that are depressed. And you know, believe it or not, I mean, the school is their safety net away from their environment that they might be in. So it’s important to have the right licensed therapists or licensed counselors to be able to help the children that are struggling in those schools, and if you don’t have that, then it affects everything every other aspect of their education, whether it’s reading, whether even attended too. But it’s major, it’s important to ensure that these kids are taken care of in that area.

KM: Okay. Dave to you. Same idea, the CDC reports that anxiety and depression can affect school aged children and that the numbers of children affected are increasing over time. In your view, does the school district do enough to help students with depression and anxiety?

DD: I don’t think we are. We need to find more federal funds and other sources of grant funding to be able to increase our counseling capability. I have been a strong advocate for the expansion of counselors to at least every middle school, and I think we’ve gotten there now. But we need to continue to work further on that. The reason I voted against the school bonds as a school board members because they failed to include about $13 million in overdue school safety projects that are really needed to harden our elementary schools against outside violent threats. I thought that was a higher priority than tearing down an existing school and building a brand new one. I really wanted to protect our kiddos better in the classrooms before we went into to building a major new school in this town.

KM: Okay, and Dave, this question is for you. In your view, it kind of kind of follows off what you were saying, in your view is security and safety within the Anchorage School District adequate to protect students, teachers and staff?

DD: Is not currently adequate because we have $13 million worth of backlog projects to harden our elementary schools.

KM: Dave, what do you mean by harden elementary schools? Does that mean a resource officer there? Does that mean kids going through metal detectors? What does hardening our schools mean?

DD: A lot of our elementary schools are designed such that people in the office don’t have a direct line of sight over the central entry point to the school. So they have to rely on video cameras and other technology. New designs place the office in a better point of control over entrance to the schools so they can respond quicker to any external threats trying to enter the schools. So that’s one thing we’ve been in the process of doing is redesigning, remodeling some of the older elementary schools to improve security. And security also includes better doors, better electronic locking systems. And certainly our school safety officers are an essential component of safety, and the administration proposed to cut for safety officers and my amendment to restore the funding for those officers was adopted by the board, so I was successful in avoiding any additional cuts to the safety office.

KM: All right. Let’s take that question to James. In your view, James, is security and safety within the Anchorage School District adequate to protect students, teachers and staff?

JS: So kind of the back that train up a little bit, I just want to point out that even though Mr. Donley did say that he did his amendment, but it was Margo Bellamy’s amendment to his amendment that actually restore the security officer, so he gets no credit for that. And also, he didn’t vote for the budget, so he gets no credit for that, too. But the point I want to make is I think the school district can do a better job. And I know that he was looking for some type of funding and the funding is, my understanding is that it was already available from the previous bond. So I’m not sure why he didn’t vote for it before because there was funding for security, and I did talk with the CFO about that, so.

KM: All right. I’m gonna try to squeeze in another question here, and I’m going to go to James. As a school board member, would you support the wellness initiative piloted this year adding eating time at breakfast, lunch, and more recess time? Why or why not?

JS: Absolutely. 100%. I definitely will support that. I’m surprised that some of the schools don’t have breakfast available for some of the kids, but it’s important the kids are eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Make sure that they get adequate time for recess and get that energy out, especially when you’re dealing with boys, too, that they need to go out there and run — I have boys — but they need to go out there to play they need to be able to get that energy out and, and really build those social skills with their friends. And that helps him when it comes to academics.

KM: Okay. And to Dave Donley, the same question. Do you support the wellness initiative piloted this year adding eating time at breakfast, lunch and more time at recess? Why or why not?

DD: Well, I’m 100% behind the 60 minute provision for recess and lunch. I think the pilot program’s proven it’s going to be successful. I was in favor of it before the pilot program, so I think the pilot programs just reaffirmed my support for it. Margo Bellamy’s amendment change was only to my main motion to restore the security officers, and her amendment only had to do with utilizing some extra funds that the district got rather than doing a large and administrative, non-classroom related bureaucracy cut that I originally suggested, and I agreed with the amendment because it got us additional votes to get it through. So, the 1% cut still stayed in there, though across the board for administration that was non-classroom related. And I think that’s a real accomplishment. That’s something people have been trying to do for years to cut administration and not classrooms.

KM: Okay. Dave, this question is for you. How will the role of charter schools change in the Anchorage School District in the next five or 10 years?

DD: Well, you know, charter schools are just an essential component of the Anchorage School District. We just renewed the charters for multiple schools. They come back before the board on a regular basis for renewal. I was 100% supportive of those charter schools. As parents get together and want new charter schools, if they can make their case to the board, I’m very supportive. I really support that kind of option for parents and choosing what’s best for their kiddos. I support alternative schools, I support language immersion. We adopted a new French language immersion since my time on the board. I supported that. I support vocational training, middle college, IGNITE, I’m a strong supporter of IGNITE.

KM: Okay. On to you, James. Do you support that that well? How will the role of charter schools change in the Anchorage School District in the next five or 10 years?

JS: Well, I’m absolutely in support of the public school charter school system that we have in place. One of the things I hope to change is be able just have every student have some type of accessibility to it, such as busing or a way for kids to be able to get to these different schools. Because the way it’s set up right now, even if a kid was able to get in, they might not be able to get over there, over to the school.

KM: Transportation becomes a parent’s responsibilities.

JS: Yeah, it does become the parent’s responsibility. So I would love to figure out ways on how we might be able to at least get your students over there so they can be part of the school.

KM: Okay, I think I have one more quick question. As a school board member, James, would you advocate for a longer school day or year round school?

JS: You know, that’s kind of been one — I can’t give you a solid answer on that, just because I see the advantages and the disadvantages on that

KM: Still thinking about it.

JS: That’s something that I would really have to study and look at more evidence base to see what would work best for this district.

KM: Fair enough. Okay. And, Dave, same question for you. Would you advocate for a longer school day or year round school to fit more in?

DD: I advocate for a longer school day, and also a longer school year. Currently, Alaska has the shortest combination of school at minimum hours, and the minimum school year of any state in the nation. And over a K-12 education, it means that some of our kids are getting between a year and a half and two years less actual instructional time as kids in others school districts around the natio, and I think that’s just one of the things — It’s not the only thing. There’s no silver bullet here to solve our educational challenges. — but I think it’s an important element of making Alaska schools stronger.

KM: All right. Well, we are running low on time. So I’m going to go to closing statement and I’ll go to you, Dave, first, what would you like to leave our listeners thinking as you head into this election?

DD: Well, I think I’ve done a good job on the school board of increased accountability at many levels of the bureaucracy. I’ve protected taxpayers. My amendments to the 2018-2019 school bonds both kept them below the amount of debt that was being retired in those years. We’ve got safer schools now because James’s right, I did do an amendment to get some of those overdue safety projects in the 2019 bond, but there are more that still need to be done. I helped, I think, advocate for all our schools were actually saying the Pledge of Allegiance and that the music teachers were following existing music curriculum and teaching national anthem and the state flag song. Protected parental rights by ensuring that the opt-out provision remains instead of requiring people to — Well, actually, it’s the reverse of that, that the opt-in provision remains and not forcing parents to opt-out of invasive surveys and questionnaires.

KM: All right, Dave, we just want to give James some time for a closing statement. So James, what do you want the listeners to think about as they go into the selection?

JS: Well, first of all, thank you for this opportunity for me to be able to talk a little bit about the issues. I’m looking forward to I’m looking forward to April 7. And I also want to point out that Mr. Donley, he does work for the governor, and I absolutely think it’s 100% wrong and unethical for him to be sitting, working for the governor, and still sit on the school board. That’s wrong. Just because you can do it, that doesn’t mean he should have done that. So he should have decided to step down as a school board member or continuing doing his work as a commissioner, but it’s wrong to do that, because we don’t know who he’s speaking for. And as far as I can tell, he does speak for the Governor. And and I think that’s wrong, and I don’t think that’s okay for him to do that.

KM: All right. Well, I want to say that’s the time we have for the seat C school board candidates. Thank you to James Smallwood and Dave Donley.

KM: We just finished up with school board seat C, and we are moving into Anchorage School Board seat D. And there are three folks in that race. Incumbent Andy Holleman, Phil Isley, and JC Cates. And I have to say, I’m sorry, JC Cates has not made it into the studio on time. We had a confirmation, but given what’s going on, it could be that he just could not make it. So we will just continue talking with both of you. So I generally start with an opening statement and you know, why are you qualified to run? Why are you running? So, I’ll go to you Phil.

Phil Isley: I basically had a lot of training in operations and training in the military. So I have a pretty good idea of how to train people, how it works, fairly knowledgeable how people learn. The reason that I’m running is because our school budget is over $800 million a year. And I really think that we could do better than that. We’re not really at the top of the pack. We seem to be losing ground every year, and I think we could do a better job. And so I would like to get on the board and give it a try.

KM: Okay. And Andy Holleman, same question for you, opening statement from you. Why are you running again, you’ve gotten a taste of it, you’re still running again. And, you know, why do you feel qualified to serve in this position?

Andy Holleman: Partly is from the familiarity with the school district. I retired as an educator after 20 years. Did some technology work with the district, and that caused me to interact with a lot of the different departments and whatnot. I think I have an understanding of how the Anchorage School District works and, to some degree, public education in general. I think it’s a good district. We’ve got some headwinds in areas and we’ve got some weak areas. We are struggling with budget every year, trying to focus where we want the results to come from, but still functioning is a tough choice. I’ve enjoyed trying to be part of it. I try to listen to the citizens of Anchorage about what matters to them the most. And I think the voice of someone who has been a teacher and been in the classroom for a lot of years is something we need on the board.

KM: Okay. By the way, we do invite calls from listeners. If we get more than we can handle, because I’ve got questions for these candidates as well, we’ll make sure they get the questions and the opportunity to follow up. So you can give us a call at 550-8433 in Anchorage, or send us an email to hometown at Alaska public org. So let’s jump in and talk about some of these issues. I’ll start with you, Andy. State funding for schools continues to decline, including shifting responsibility from the state to cities and boroughs for bonds passed years ago. Do you have ideas for funding and spending models that could bridge this gap?

AH: This is kind of a tough one because the board itself doesn’t have the tools, and we’ve been held flat. We’ve had a series of one time budget additions as we’ve gone along over the past five or six years, but the base student allocation hasn’t changed. And that’s really how we plan our core functions.

KM: Isn’t there a house bill to increase it?

AH: There is and given what’s happened to the price of oil in the past few days, I am not optimistic, but that would actually give us the ability to adjust for inflation. We know inflation is cumulative, it happens a little bit every year. So we’ve had to squeeze what I would call our core functions for a little bit of savings, somewhere between $10-$15 million every year, just to stay within that budget. The other monies have been appropriated have usually been one time, often they’ve been designated for specific things and it’s not something that you can continue to do what you’ve been doing

KM: One time money, yeah. And to you Phil, same question. With the state funding for schools continuing to decline, do you have ideas for funding and spending models that could bridge the gap?

PI: I think that we could stand to do some cuts. I believe that we have over 150 people in the school district that are making over $200,000 a year with wages and benefits. I think that we could probably do more with less. We have like 3,500 empty seats. Each year our enrollment tends to decline a little more and a little more, and I think it’s time to start making cuts. And if we really needed to we could maybe double up on some high schools and put a swing shift in there, and a day shift, to where we could reduce the number of schools and the number of employees needed to run those schools.

KM: Okay. It’s a tough question, I know, especially as oil money is declining, and there’s so much going on, but still a good question. What should the, this is going to go to you, Phil, what should the district do to attract and retain highly qualified teachers?

PI: When I was looking over the numbers, I noticed that the average school district employee makes $58,000 roughly in wages. A teacher they say starts at $33,000, and the average teacher makes around $51,000. But when you’re looking at the teachers that have been here for a while, some of them are making over $100,000. I think that if we want good teachers, we should bring them in, pay them better, give them a secure job. And if you’re looking at like a classroom size to 25 that only takes 1880 teachers, and you’ve got a full time staff of over 5100. And by the time you add in all your substitute teachers, you wind up with over 6000 employees. So we should be able to cut positions and increase the amount of teachers that we have.

KM: Okay. This question is going to go to you, Andy. Do you support the 2020 school bond on April 7 ballot? Why or why not, if you have issues with it?

AH: I do, and this is one of those difficult things. We have about $2 billion worth of physical plant in about 97 buildings across the district. A lot of people don’t realize how large the Anchorage School District is, but they’re somewhere around 14-15,000 school districts in the country. Anchorage is within the top 100. So it’s an unusually large school district in a town that often likes to think of itself as still kind of a small town. So the bonds really go to the kind of capital improvements you have to do periodically on buildings. A lot of people do ask “Why don’t we incorporate that into our regular budget?” This is where we’re constrained by the legislature in that what they calculate is an operating budget that’s supposed to be meant on running the district year to year. It’s not supposed to be capital improvement. It’s not supposed to be building schools. So we would have to take away from the classroom if we didn’t bond for it. So this one, goes in and repairs the earthquake damage from November, a year ago. Two does a renewal of Gruening, which is a school that’s overall in decent shape and does have one or two specific problems from the earthquake, but by and large, it’s a good investment. It’s a building with millions of dollars worth of value to it. This will also reopen the Eagle River Elementary and get it back in place,and do a couple other things. Nothing’s exciting about it exactly like, this isn’t gonna be something to celebrate and jump up and down for joy about. It’s just about keeping what we have in good shape and moving forward.

KM: Okay, I see we have a caller coming in, but I’m going to go to Phil first and let you answer this question. Do you support the 2020 school bond on the APR seven ballot?

PI: No, I don’t. I think that we’re spending an awful lot of money right now, and it’s extremely difficult to maintain the amount of money we’re spending. I mean with the payback for the bond and our operating budget, it’s over $800 million a year. That’s a lot of money. And I think right now with the economy the way it is — and it’s not picking up it’s getting worse, and the coronavirus is going to make it even worse — I think we need to kind of just slow down on the spending if not stop it altogether. Look at some of the regular people that we have that are in maintenance to do more preventitive maintenance on the schools instead of bonding it out.

KM: Okay. We do have a caller. I’d like to welcome Caroline on to Hometown, Alaska. Hi, Caroline.

CALLER: Good afternoon, I wanted to ask a couple of questions, and I’ll be as brief as possible. Our Constitution requires Alaskans to educate their youth. Are we meeting the standards that were set forth by the Constitution? Could our education now be considered at the level that it was when the Constitution was written? And the other thing I thought of when you were talking about test scores, and I’m the daughter of a 31-year — she’s long gone, unfortunately — teacher, a third grade teacher, and classrooms tended to kind of hold together, and we’re not as competitive one-to-one, and I’m just wondering if the test scores could be done or discussed from the standpoint of individual classes. The students are helping each other to improve the classroom score.

KM: Okay. I do have a question on testing. So I’ll remember to bring your question up then, Carolyn. And we’ll have our candidates speak to your first question, which is, in your view, and I’ll start with Phil, are we fulfilling our state requirement to educate children in in Alaska?

PI: I don’t believe that we’re meeting the standard. I think we could do better. If you look at the technology that we have today, we have the capabilities of educaing individual people with electronics without building lots of school buildings. If you look at the coronavirus, we might be started into that right now. We could have developed that a long time ago, and that would assist in educating our students a lot better and it would remove a lot of the fiscal responsibilities from the state for all the brick and mortar places that we build up. Which is pretty spendy, especially outside the Anchorage area. So I would like to see us go to more electronics, and I would like to see us raise the acceptable standard for our students which would put them higher when they test nationally.

KM: Okay. And Andy, same question for you.

AH: Well, I do think that the states managed to push a lot of the cost off to the organized boroughs, which is a discussion we haven’t really had, and they do it through the requirement that organized areas chipped in 20% of the base student allocation funds. Anchorage does that to the max and — I’m sorry, they require 10%, we can chip in up to 20% — Anchorage has done it, a lot of other places in the state have not. And then more recently, walking back their commitment to bonds that they promised to pay for years ago. Again, simply deferred costs to localities. I don’t think that the framers of the Constitution had that in mind when they did it. I think we need to get our class sizes back down, which unfortunately means hiring more teachers to be in the classroom. I believe that we’re still offering a good education. The important thing about test scores is they’re one critical area, proficient not proficient, in a in a real specific test, is part of the picture. But also part of the picture is how do our good students do? Our students who never worried about whether they were going to be proficient or not because they are way beyond that. When you look at the range of things that happens in schools every day, you see kids engaged in activities that are moving them further along, that they’re learning from, they’re growing. And that’s a big part of the measure that I think a lot of parents understand, but a lot of folks that get away from the school district do not.

KM: Alright, I’m gonna welcome a caller on to Hometown, Alaska. Hi, Annie from Eagle River. You have a question about earthquake repairs in the bond. Go ahead.

CALLER: Yes. Hi, I have a question about the way the bond proposal was put in for a vote. And I’m wondering if somebody can talk about why it was lumped together — the earthquake repairs were lumped together with the rest of the capital improvements — because as a constituent, we can’t say yes to earthquake repairs and no to the rest of it. So as it stands now, we would have to say no to all of it. We just agreed. So can somebody talk that?

KM: Well, I’m going to give both of them a chance to answer this. I’m going to go to you, Andy, because you’re sitting on the school board right now. Can you help her understand why the earthquake repairs were lumped in with other things.

AH: It was proposed that we have a repair package and other items package. I voted for that because I thought it was a pretty transparent way to put it to the public. We do think that there’s pretty universal support for repairing damage. There may or may not be universal support for some of the the renewals and upgrades in certain places. I will say that the members of the board really do try to abide by the Open Meetings Act. And so that bond package is put together in an open meeting with everybody watching, and that can be an awkward thing to have the kind of discussion like we can have right here where we’re just sitting around and talking. In a meeting with Robert’s Rules of Order and motions and all that stuff, you can sometimes tie your shoelaces together. I think if we’d been able to talk about it more in an informal way, without everybody watching, we might have come forward with with a different package and in a different form. But I do believe The Open Meetings Act. I think we do have to conduct our business in public. But it’s awkward, sometimes. The legislature manages to avoid them.

KM: Now, Phil, I know you were on the record is not supporting this bond measure. But do you have any quick response to Annie?

PI: If you feel strongly about your school in Eagle River, and this bond package doesn’t make it, then you can go down to the school board meetings and tell them you just want to bond for the Eagle River schools. And they should put it on by itself for the next election.

KM: All right. So we’re gonna move on. I’m going to start with you, Phil, in your view is security and safety within the Anchorage School District adequate to protect students, teachers and staff?

PI: From what I’ve seen it is. Every time you read about it in the paper they seem to act appropriately, and it seems to be working. We haven’t had any incident incidents where it has been serious enough to really warrant changing it.

KM: Okay. And same thing for you, Andy. In your view is security and safety within the Anchorage School District adequate to protect students, teachers and staff?

AH: I can’t think of anything that keeps us awake more. We are improving it, and we’ve definitely taken steps to deter people from coming in and doing things. Would it stop someone that thought it out and focused and really had an anger issue and wanted to make it happen? I don’t think it’s that strong. And we are confronted every day with how open we make our schools versus we don’t want them to be fortresses. We don’t want it to take an hour and a half for every, say, high school for kids to get into the building and get back out at the end of the day. So we keep modifying it. I’m gonna say we’ve got a small group of people that study this and think about it a lot, and I think we’ve done a lot of good work. We’ve changed the entrances. We’ve changed protocols for how people do get in and out of the buildings, and we’ve seen those work. The incident Denali Elementary last spring was a prime example of technology that was put in place

KM: Just remind people quickly what it was.

AH: Oh, basically, we had a gunfight between two individuals out in the parking lot and one of them tried to get into the building. At the first sound of gunfire, one of the staff inside the school turned, hit the big red button, every door in the building released and locked, as well as all the exterior doors. And one of the individuals did try to get into the building to try to get away from the other person, but at the the school while they were on a temporary lockdown, continued through the school day and at the end of the day everything had been cleaned up outside. School released normally, a lot of kids weren’t really sure that anything had ever happened, so that is a happy thing that comes out. Could we stop someone that was determined tomorrow? Obviously, school districts are finding out at times they can’t.

KM: We did want to do a little question about testing, just briefly. Andy, I’m gonna start with you, back to the testings. Some people feel there’s way too much testing, other people think there’s not enough testing. Some people get depressed because the results aren’t good. So what do you what do you think? Are we doing too much or too little, and what do you see ahead for testing?

AH: Well, I think we’re doing too much standardized testing. And the big goal that everybody has is to somehow try to reduce the entire school district down to a number or a two digit number and go “This is this is where we’re at, and this is how we compared all other states.” It’s a much more complicated picture than that. And I would ask, would you ever evaluate your own child that way? Would you ever say to someone, “Well, he’s a 5.7. out of 10, that’s pretty good and I’m happy with it.” You know, a lot more detail. You understand strengths, you understand weaknesses, you understand what they’re working at. And I’m gonna say that the district is like that, too. We’ve got issues with certain subjects and certain kids. We’ve got others where we do really, really well. I don’t want either of them to wash away the other, I want people to look at all of it. And ultimately, it’s just a much more complicated picture than any one test score can ever tell you.

KM: Not an easy answer for parents if they feel they’re wanting a green light or a red light. It’s hard.

AH: We love those. Yeah, but it’s always an oversimplification.

KM: Yeah. And how about you, Phil. What’s your response to too much testing or not enough testing?

PI: Well, testings a necessity. And doctors when they test them, they test them over everything they’ve learned each time they test them. And the reason being is because our college students now have this way of working up to the test, then taking the test and then forgetting the information. Where it’s kind of proven that if you keep adding everything into the test and make a little bit stronger all the time that it enhances your ability to learn the subject more thoroughly. And I’m not so much about standardized testing, but I am about testing. I can remember us having a test every week in a lot of classes. And it not only prepares you for the test, but it focuses you on learning the material, which is very important. I think that we should set local high standards for testing so that we learn the material and when we hit the standardized testing, that’s a piece of cake.

KM: So sounds like your favor, more local testing, less standardized testing. Okay. All right. Let’s see. I would like to ask, and I’ll start with you, Phil. How will the role of charter schools change in the Anchorage School District in the next five or 10 years?

PI: You know, that’s something that I really don’t have the knowledge to answer. A lot of it depends on what our budgets gonna look like, who’s on the school board to decide what charter schools get, how they’ll operate. There’s just a lot of things that I’m not familiar to be able to forecast that out into the future.

KM: Okay. And Andy, same question for you. What do you see? What’s what might change with our charter schools in the future? And I think people might not understand that charter schools are in the Anchorage School District, they’re not outside. Do you see it changing in the future?

AH: I think we’re gonna be making a concerted effort to make the charter school population look more like the population of Anchorage. It does tend to be a little more upscale than the average demographics. The biggest difference is for a child to wind up in a charter school they’ve got a parent that studied the system, knows about those options, took steps to get their kids into the lottery or signed up. And a lot of charter schools do have an expectation of parent participation that deters some parents from putting their kids into them.

KM: An example is the transportation issue, right?

AH: And transportation is at the heart of it. If you are putting your kid in an optional program or charter school, you’re obligating yourself to make sure they get to school and back every day in most cases. So that has an isolating effect. We would like to see more kids be able to avail themselves. Because the neat thing about charters is they’re just a different environment. It’s not the nature of the people, per se, the program is different. And what they’re studying is different or maybe studying at different way. And it ranges all the way from back to basics to open optional, where, you know, one’s highway structured, one is not structured very much at all and there’s an expectation on the students. So I think our biggest goal is going to be how do we make our charter school populations look more like our neighborhood school populations?

KM: Well, we just have a little bit of time left. I have more questions, but it just goes the way it goes. But I do like to give you each a chance to, you know, give a closing statement and what do you want voters to think about as they go into this April 7 election and about the school board? So go to you, Phil.

PI: Actually, I started the last one, so you should go with Andy.

KM: Well, we can go to Andy.

AH: Biggest thing, I have been there for three years. I’ve tried to report to the public what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Trying to listen to the public on what matters. We get surprised sometimes. We think we have an idea that seems pretty good, and we find out it’s not so widely accepted, and I think we’ve been responsive to that. So people have that to look out and if they are comfortable with it and would like to see it continue, I hope they’ll remember my name and vote for me on election day.

KM: Okay, and how about you Phil? What do you want people to think about as they go into the voting booth or vote at home actually, is what’s going to happen here in Anchorage. What do you want them to be thinking about?

PI: Well, I hope they get their votes. So I hope if they liked what I had to say that they’ll put me on their Facebook page and try and get other people to vote for me. What I’d like them to take away is I feel that we’re spending an awful lot of money on education, and I think that we could do a lot better job with that much money.

KM: That’s all the time we have for seat C school board candidates. Thank you to Andy Holleman and Phil Isley. Sorry, we did not hear from JC Cates.

PARTICIPATE:

  • Call 550-8433 (Anchorage) or 1-888-353-5752 (statewide) during the live broadcast (2:00 – 3:00pm)
  • Send e-mail to hometown@alaskapublic.org before, during or after the live broadcast (e-mails may be read on air)
  • Post your comment or question below (comments may be read on air
  • LIVE: Monday, March 16, 2020 at 2:00 p.m.
  • ARCHIVED: RUNNING 2020