Lingering questions over apprenticeship program, project funding prove controversial at ASD meeting

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Questions - and emotions - swirled Tuesday evening as the Anchorage School District School Board considered whether or not to waive a policy regarding the use of apprentices over concern that the district could lose out on federal funding for reimbursement-eligible projects, as well as mitigation grant projects.

“We felt it was possibly a good thing to help our students be able to become successful later on,” ASD School Board President Starr Marsett said of the policy, introduced in late 2019, “and help them in their careers and endeavors.”

The policy, however, which was designed to ensure that any project costing the district more than $100,000 would have a 15 percent utilization of apprentices, would be called into question shortly after its implementation, when it was discovered the move may have unintentionally threatened future funding and reimbursements.

The decision was up to the board: vote to either waive the policy or keep it in place.

“There’s risk associated with it,” Marsett said ahead of the meeting, “so the board just has to look at, is there a risk, what is the risk, and do we move forward?”

Marsett said the apprenticeship policy and its future has been and would prove to be a continued contentious topic of discussion, as seen during the board meeting Tuesday.

Superintendent Deena Bishop had written in a public memo the she does indeed believe that “application of the apprenticeship utilization policy could put FEMA public assistance funding at risk,” and suggested the board waive the policy.

Tom Roth, of the Anchorage School District, said Tuesday that there is about $680 million in deferred maintenance, with between at least $50 and $55 million of that specifically earthquake-related.

"You weigh risks," Bishop said at the meeting. "In black and white, the risks have been presented in front of me. Therefore, the recommendation came to me to say and create this waiver. It's not to eliminate the apprentice policy, not to be against an apprentice policy."

The debate at Tuesday's meeting was one in which all present board members participated, with member Andy Holleman also calling in via phone.

"The FEMA director has said the apprenticeship program does not exclude ASD from FEMA and public assistance funds," said ASD School Board Member Dave Donley.

Alisha Hilde, ASD School Board Member, added: "At this point, I've heard there's a risk of the district being denied reimbursement. I personally am inclined to believe the people in our district who are tasked with planning out our goals."

Bishop said during the meeting that the district is "trying to find the best value for public money, and do our due diligence in applying to FEMA."

"We've done it for removal of debris and all that, the initial proceedings," she said, "so this would be seismic mitigation, as well as fixing the buildings."

You can read the full document as presented in the official meeting agenda by clicking here.

In the end, the vote waiving the board policy regarding the use of apprenticships failed, with five nay votes. As such, the rule requiring apprentices be utilized still stands, leaving a funding future up in the air as the community barrels ahead toward the Municipal Election on April 7.

The board on Tuesday also voted in favor of a resolution in support of looking further into crosswalk safety and the “walkability” of Anchorage schools after the Anchorage Assembly late last year requested a joint effort by the Assembly, school district and Municipality of Anchorage to evaluate how to improve safety for students and families who walk to school. Officials said they wanted to bring the resolution into action and consider whether the board might want to do something different in order to support it.

The next regularly scheduled ASD School Board meeting will take place in mid-February. Marsett said a large part of that will include budget discussions as the district faces another deficit, this time of a reported $20 million, for the coming year.

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