Meet the Candidates for Anchorage School Board in ongoing mail-in election

Five candidates are running for two school board seats in Anchorage for the Anchorage Municipal mail-in election. From left to right: Ron Stafford, David Nees, Starr Marsett, Margo Bellamy, Kai Binkley Sims. (KTUU)
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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The deadline for Anchorage voters to turn in their mail-in ballots is Tuesday, and voters have choices for Assembly members, School Board members and a number of ballot propositions.

Two seats on the Anchorage School Board are up for a vote: Seat A and Seat B. KTUU sat down with all five of the candidates running for both Anchorage School Board seats.

We asked them what they believe are the three biggest issues ASD is facing, and how they can be improved. We also asked what the school board can do to improve itself. Below are their answers, in their own words.

Candidates for School Board Seat A:

Margo Bellamy

Margo Bellamy
"For me, the top three concerns are funding, adequate funding, and for that I want to work really hard with our legislators, making sure that they adequately fund education. I also want to look at the budget, and see what efficiencies there are. We're in for a long haul, a long fight with the budget, and that's really a priority of mine."

"The other thing that's a priority is safety. The district has done a great job in terms of training staff and students to make sure they know how to identify and how to respond during emergencies of all kinds. The way the district handled the November 30th earthquake was really admirable. (We) still need to work on some parts of it. In terms of the communication I think (it) worked well, people knew what to do, the kids were safe until their parents got there. But maybe being a little bit more proactive in how we communicate with the public and families."

"The third thing for me would be to look at equity, in terms of not just what programs children have access to, but the barriers to those programs, and having conversations around that."

"Education is about continual improvement over time. I've been in education for over 40 years. And throughout those years, up until my retirement, I never did anything the same way. Because that's the nature of the business of education. So we have to constantly assess ourselves, and constantly look at what we're doing and make it better."

"My campaign is really focused on education and safety for students and the staff that care for them, and giving them the resources and opportunities that they need for the students to learn, and for the teachers to do their job."

"What that looks like to me, is when kids come to school, they are met by knowledgeable adults, who are there to teach and care for them, and nurture them. The teachers have the tools they need to be responsive to the kids, and they have the leadership in the school to help make all of that happen."

"I'm a teacher, and I retired as an executive director. So I have 40 years of experience in education. As a teacher, assistant principal, principal, and executive director. And in all of those capacities, students have been at the forefront of my work and my service in the community."

Closing Statement:
"Basically, my campaign is focused on education and safety and well-being of kids. On the school board, that has to be the focus of everyone on the school board. And making sure that we are doing the best we can so that students can be successful. And is there a cost? There is a cost, but this community is invested. I've lived in this community for over 43 years, and the one thing I do know is that it invests in education, and in its kids. And that's really a great community."

Kai Binkley Sims

Kai Binkley Sims
"Teachers, and budget, and performance. I could go on for a while about those. [...] I think some of the big issues affecting the school district right now are performance, budget, and teacher retention and recruitment. In terms of performance, we need to make sure that our kids are getting the basics in school. We need to focus on reading, writing, and math. And make sure that our teachers are allowed to do what they know how to do in our classrooms. So give them the freedom to teach their students."

"Budget, of course, is a big issue on everybody's mind right now. It looks like there's going to be some pressure from the state to make some cuts and find some efficiencies within our budget, so we need to trust that the legislators that we elected to do their job in Juneau are going to find the right level of K-12 education funding. And then once we get that figure from them, once we have communicated our needs to them, we need to make sure that we are looking at all areas of the budget, beside the classroom. We need to make sure that we protect classroom funding."

"Third would be teacher retention and recruitment. We have a tough time keeping teachers here in Alaska. And we need to make sure that we're keeping a positive working and learning environment within our schools. That starts with the principal, it comes from the district office, and it comes from the school board having a positive attitude and a great environment for our teachers to work in."

"As a parent with three kids in three schools in our district, I have been frustrated with the amount of communication between the school board and parents. I think that parents aren't getting the information from the school board and are not aware of what the school board is voting on and what is on their agenda at each meeting. I would like to see the school board do a better job at communicating with parents and inviting them to meetings."

Closing Statement:
"As a mom, an engineer, and a business owner, I think I have a good perspective to bring to the school board. We have so many great educators, and so many people that are experts in education, I think it would be great to have a different point of view, and one that brings a business and a private sector point of view to the decisions made at the school board level."

Candidates for School Board Seat B:

Starr Marsett - Current School Board president running for re-election

Starr Marsett

"Budget. I think that's the big conversation with everyone. So it would be budget, it would be reading by third Grade, and then also Preschool is very important."

"Right now we're going through policies one-by-one, and revisiting those policies that haven't been looked at for a while that govern how the school board operates. And so that's a good start. We have made some changes. We're looking at making some other changes about how we conduct our meetings."

"One of the things we're looking at, and I'm pretty excited about and I'm hoping we'll do it, is that I've recommended that April 1 work session, we're going to try to do that live, so that community members can send in questions. We'll have somebody tracking those and answer them as we go. Those that we can't, we'll get back to later, but this will be a first for us."

"I am running on experience. I'm also running that I'm not a politician. It's always been about kids, and education, with me. The longevity of our board, Elisa Snelling has been on the board four years now, the next one would be me, who's been on the board three years, and then you go down to two and one. So it is important to have that longevity, that history, and be able to mentor new school board members who come on."

"There's been some information that's been shared that there's an outside group, my understanding a Republican group, a national group that has come in and put $40,000 into a local school board race. And that is for my opponent, and another candidate. To me, it's just sad, that it kind of defeats the democratic process, when you have outside influence coming in and trying to persuade local voters how to vote in a race. They should be looking at the individuals running and not the money in the race, and how much they're advertised."

"No disparity on my opponent, but this is just wrong. I would honestly say if someone from an outside company offered me that, I would turn it down."

Closing Statement:
"I'm running for school board again. I've been doing it for three years. I think I've done a good job. We've had some difficult times, we've got some tough times ahead of us, and we need strong individuals who can make the right decisions for our children. And I think I'm that person."

David Nees

David Nees
"The three big topics, the budget is one of them. The Eagle River schools is the second one, and probably after that is safety issues."

"There's communication going on about the budget and what the options are. They have one scenario, they run it all the time, and they haven't tried out any other scenarios. The earthquake was an issue and they did a real good job communicating, now they're going to have to communicate what their long term plan is. They have their short-term plan, and hopefully they'll be listening too and not just telling. The district has a habit of just telling instead of asking for an opinion and giving it back."

"Safety, the last couple school board meetings there have been parents in there who are very upset about gun issues in the school, and a lack of transparency in getting it out to parents. So, a little bit of feeling of safety. They feel more safe about an earthquake in a school than the world coming into the school."

"I was a teacher for 28 years, so I was inside the system. I worked 25 years at Hanshew and 3 years at Clark before that.... When we look at it, I've been looking at it from a policy format, there was a big change in the school formula in the late '70s and we moved to, the way the state hands out the money, it's called a block grant. They give it to you, but there are no strings attached in how you spend it. And as soon as we seemed to get that model we kind of got away from having a classroom set of instructions."

"So you go, okay, we have a classroom, so many kids, and built a model from that. So we've gone to they're just full-time equivalency positions, and they're negotiable. So every single year since 1979, the first year my wife worked for the district, we've seen teacher pink slips. My opponents, 225 people were first-year teachers, 200 teachers last year, and it looks like 400 this year. If that's the only way you can solve the problem, I say, let's try a different way. And so that's what I am. I'm the person that wants to do it a different way."

KTUU: Are you receiving outside funds?
Nees: "Myself or my campaign? No. Basically, all my funds are people that have come to fundraisers and stuff. I do understand there's a group that's out there that's basically got money from Outside. The first I heard of them was basically I got a voice mail on my voice recorder at home that says, 'Hey vote Dave Nees and Kai Binkley Sims. Paid for by---' and I'm going, 'I didn't do one of those?' So yeah, kind of exciting and kind of interesting at the same time, because I like school board races because they are all about local, but if this gets people out there voting, that's terrific. The more people that vote, the better the choices are at the end."

Closing Statement:
"If you want to keep your schools open, and keep your teachers in front of your kids, and you like that brand new teacher you got this year, I'm your candidate. My opponent has laid off 225-200, and has threatened 400 this year. Save the teachers. Vote Nees."

Ron Stafford

Ron Stafford
"I'm asking for your vote, to get on the school board so that I can speak for all of us out there that would like to see things changed in Anchorage."

"I'm kind of an old-school person. The thing that I think creates more dissension in education, and in society in general, is the fact that they have little to no discipline in the classroom. The teachers are not allowed to discipline the students the way they think it should be done. Administration does not back them up, and the principal of the school has very little to back them up either."

"You can't teach kids when they're busy talking or drawing pictures or doing whatever they do that they've decided they feel is more important."

"The second thing is the way they spend money. From what I understand, they get $480,000 for each class. They have 25 kids in a class. What the heck do they do with $480,000?

"From what I understand the teachers average about $80,000, which is not an unreasonable amount. They're not getting rich but they're able to have a decent living. But somehow that money is being wasted."

"One of the things that they pointed out to me in asking questions is they said that the school's run at about a 75 percent capacity.

In my estimation especially with damage from the earthquake, I think they need to shut a number of the schools down and bring the occupancy up to 80 to 90 percent in the remaining schools."

"I don't know for sure how [The Anchorage School Board] works, having not been on the board. But having been on the board for nation-wide corporations and different groups, you need to draw a consensus between the board members as to what you would like to accomplish. Then when you have that established, then you work with everybody to work towards a goal to achieve that status."

"My biggest thing is a reversion to old-school. Discipline in the classroom. Let the teachers keep the kids under control. I don't see any reason why they couldn't expand from 25 to maybe 35 in a classroom to help cut down the overall cost."

Closing Statement:
"I think the biggest thing is discipline, because without that, you can't teach anybody anything. And once you get that under control, you're going to have a better chance to teach the kids what they need to learn."

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