ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) — Update:
Anchorage school teachers staged a mass walkout of an ASD Board Meeting Monday night in what they say is an expression of solidarity and frustration with their voices not being heard in prolonged negotiations with ASD.
As the regular meeting began at the ASD Education Center, the room overflowed with people -- many of whom were dressed in red. When it came time for public testimony, teachers and parents covered topics ranging from the potential closure of Mt. Spurr Elementary to ongoing frustrations teachers are having with ASD intervention in their classrooms.
But one woman's testimony in particular seemed filled with determination and gusto. She claimed it was time to take a serious look at new leadership in ASD.
And as her testimony progressed, so did the passion in her voice, raising to a crescendo with the words, "If you want to know what it's like to run ASD without the backbone of educators, this is what's coming."
The woman stood up, and behind her a sea of educators dressed in red stood up with her. They all began filtering out of the meeting room, leaving in their wake rows of empty chairs and stunned faces.
According to Greuning Middle School teacher Megan Card, this mass educator exodus was pre-meditated long before Monday's meeting, just in time for the newest round of moderations between ASD and the teachers union starting 9 a.m. Tuesday.
"I know some people are hearing us, but maybe not enough. So we really wanted to make tonight a statement, a point of how much this affects all of us," Card said. "So we packed the building, we packed the foyer, and then we walked out at the end of public testimony to show how we really aren't feeling heard and listened to."
Before Monday's walk-out, ASD and teachers union officials both expressed positivity heading into Tuesday's moderations.
"We've already agreed to a number of articles," ASD Chief Human Resource Officer Todd Hess said. "There are many commonalities that we have in terms of looking at solutions for this collective bargaining process. So we're quite hopeful."
But Anchorage Education Association President Tom Klaameyer says progress doesn't come without hardship, and there's still a potentially long road ahead.
"That's not to say that there aren't difficulties, right?" Klaameyer said. "We made a lot of progress in the last session -- enough to give us hope that another round of mediation will get is there. But, there's some big issues left to solve."
Education on JBER is looking at a shakeup as Anchorage School District considers closing Mount Spurr Elementary to consolidate student populations in the face of decreasing enrollment.
Enrollment at all three schools on base — Orion, Aurora and Mt. Spurr elementary schools — has decreased by six percent since last school year, According to ASD.
In April 2018, ASD's consulting firm Western Demographics actually looked at closing Orion Elementary to reduce overall classroom capacity on base. However, further investigation turned their sights on Mt. Spurr, and here are some reasons why, according to ASD:
- Aurora (25) and Orion (24) each have more classrooms than Mt. Spurr (17), respectively,
- Orion houses the district's fine arts directorate, and holds all district-owned instruments in its environment-controlled basement,
- The district recently completed capital projects at Aurora, including upgrades to the gymnasium, office complexes and classrooms,
- ASD anticipates enhanced educational services by maintaining at or above 300 enrollment.
Channel 2 spoke with Mt. Spurr Elementary School Principal Anna Walker about how the proposed closure could impact teachers and families attending the school.
“Even the possibility of closing a school, again it’s never easy," Walker said. "And our parents, we, again, we communicate with them. We’ve held several town hall meetings to make sure that the questions that they have are answered, to make sure that they are part of the process.”
Walker says transparency is a huge part of the discussion around this proposed closure.
Families and teachers testified at Monday's Regular School Board meeting about how the closure of Mt. Spurr could affect them. One mother with two boys currently attending Mt. Spurr said she and her husband chose the school specifically for its location and proximity to a friendly community. Another Mt. Spurr mother, Allie Paskin, expressed distaste after having testified at previous public hearings on the same topic, and feeling like there could have been more transparency.
"The second time I testified, I was angry. I had had a few weeks to think, a few weeks to digest, and a few weeks to get really upset," Paskin said. "And now, here we are a few weeks later, and now I am just dedicated to trying to fight to save Mt. Spurr."
The memorandum to consolidate JBER Elementary schools through the closure of Mt. Spurr will move to an action item for final vote at the next ASD regular school board meeting.