There are 16 candidates running to fill four seats on the Anchorage School Board in the municipal election this year.
They’re facing off in nonpartisan, area-wide races, hopeful for a spot on the policymaking body of the state’s largest school district. All Anchorage voters will vote on all four seats.
The pandemic is a hot topic in the campaign with many candidates criticizing the current school board for its handling of the school closures.
Two of the races have incumbents hoping to retain their seats despite a difficult year. But at least two of the seats will be filled by someone new to the school board.
And, when it comes to fundraising, progressive candidates have some of the highest totals in the race.
Winning candidates will serve three years on the seven-member school board, with the exception of Seat B, which is a one-year term. (Current board member Starr Marsett will not be completing her term, so Seat B will be on the ballot again next year.) Each seat comes with a salary.
Below are the basics of each candidate’s platform and priorities. See each candidates’ responses to specific questions on Alaska Public Media’s election questionnaire here:
Seat G: Elisa Vakalis (incumbent), Carl Jacobs
Elisa Vakalis, the current school board President, is seeking reelection for a third term. Vakalis is running on her experience as a school board member and vision of focusing board priorities on student outcomes, rather than adult interests.
Vakalis’ challenger, Carl Jacobs has raised significantly more money than Vakalis according to the most recent financial reports. And Jacobs shares several endorsements, including one from the Anchorage teachers union, with candidates in other races, including Kelly Lessens running for Seat B, Dora Wilson running for Seat F, and mayoral candidate Forest Dunbar. Vakalis has at least one endorsement from current board member Dave Donley who, as a private citizen, wrote on the conservative political blog Must Read Alaska he’ll vote for Vakalis.
A first-time candidate, Jacobs is running on a platform of working with lawmakers to advocate for students, closing disparities in outcomes between students, and preparing students for adulthood. Jacobs has criticized the current school board, particularly the board’s response to the pandemic, saying the board lacked leadership and failed to communicate effectively with families. Jacobs has also directly criticized Vakalis, saying she was absent at community meetings, which Vakalis disputes.
Seat E: Alisha Hilde (incumbent), Pat Higgins, Edgar Blatchford, Rachel Blakeslee, Sami Graham, Nial Williams.
Current school board member Alisha Hilde is seeking reelection for her second term. Hilde faces five challengers for her seat.
After several postponements to reopening schools to in-person learning during the current school year, Hilde introduced a resolution that would have prevented the superintendent from canceling the district’s plan to reopen, saying school children were bearing the heaviest burden of stopping the spread of COVID in the city by remaining out of school. Hilde is running on a platform of addressing the district’s long-term budget issues and providing students with more vocational opportunities.
Previous school board member Pat Higgins is returning to the race after serving three terms on the board from 2008-2017. In his questionnaire, Higgins told Alaska Public Media he was “frustrated” with the current board. He criticized the current board’s relationship with the superintendent, saying it was taking too much direction from the superintendent and not enough from the public. Higgins is endorsed by the Anchorage teacher’s union. Higgins is running on a platform of promoting career and technical options for students, strengthening the board oversight of the district, and improving student outcomes.
Sami Graham was initially part of a group of conservative school board candidates who tried to run as a slate to fill all four open board seats. The slate quickly fell apart after inflammatory social media posts from one candidate in the group began circulating on social media, and another candidate dropped out of the race: Graham decided to run a separate campaign. A retired educator in both Anchorage public and private schools, Graham is running on a platform of raising student reading and math proficiency by making the district’s optional programs accessible to all students, and using the optional programs as models for neighborhood schools, as well as supporting extracurricular activities and centering parent’s voices in decision-making. Graham has raised the most money in the race for this seat.
Edgar Blatchford is a former Mayor of Seward and current professor at UAA. Blatchford is running on a platform of bringing diversity and governing experience to the board, and championing the needs of BIPOC students. Rachel Blakeslee, a former teacher and current manager at Teach For America, is running on a platform of improving equity in student outcomes and incorporating more modern themes in education like digital and financial literacy. Nial Williams is running on a platform of never closing school again, linking teacher pay to test results, and balancing the district budget by selling buildings.
Seat F: Dora Wilson, Kim Paulson, Marcus Sanders, Dan Lorig
Dora Wilson, a member of the Office of Childrens’ Services Family Advisory Board and a community outreach manager, has raised the most money of any candidate across all seats in the school board race. Wilson shares several endorsements with school board candidates Kelly Lessens and Carl Jacobs. Wilson is running on a platform of building partnerships with businesses and organizations in the community, as well as increasing vocational opportunities for students earlier in their school careers and prioritizing equitable student outcomes.
Kim Paulson is still a part of what’s left of a disbanded slate of conservative candidates who hoped to fill all four open school board seats. Paulson is running on a platform of reopening schools, centering parent’s voices, and preventing curriculum considered “political or social indoctrination.” Marcus Sanders, a coordinator for the State of Alaska and a chaplain, is running on a platform of in-person learning, increasing mentorship opportunities for students, and expanding education options. Dan Lorig did not respond to Alaska Public Media’s questionnaire.
Seat B (one-year term): Kelly Lessens, Judy Eledge, Mark Anthony Cox, Marilyn Stewart
Kelly Lessens, who has taught at the college level and is a former researcher who has kids in ASD, is running on a platform of “child-centered decision-making,” focusing on student wellness, equity, and improving student outcomes. Lessens has raised the most money for this seat and shares several endorsements with Carl Jacobs, and Dora Wilson. Lessens helped organize a recent campaign to expand lunch and recess time for students which turned into a district-wide wellness initiative.
Judy Eledge remains part of the group of conservative candidates who tried to run as a slate to fill all open school board seats. Eledge, a retired educator in ASD and in rural Alaska, is running on a platform of reopening schools, centering parent’s voices, and preventing curriculum deemed from “special interest groups.”
Mark Anthony Cox, the 26-year-old CEO of non-profit charity Family Charity of Alaska, is running on a platform of bringing youth and diversity to the school board, and prioritizing career and technical options for students. Marilyn Stewart is running on a platform of returning students to in-person learning while closely adhering to CDC guidelines and supporting student diversity.
When will I get my ballot?
Ballots were mailed March 15. The municipal clerk said everyone should have received theirs by Monday, March 22.
What’s the deadline to vote?
All mailed ballots need to be postmarked by April 6 (Election Day). The municipality will accept ballots until April 16 for local voters, or April 20 for overseas voters.
Drop boxes at Vote Centers close at 8 p.m. on Election Day, but if you are in line to drop off your ballot by 8 p.m. you will still be allowed to submit it.