The Anchorage School Board broke a deadlock Saturday and picked Thomas Corkran, a self-employed businessman and financial consultant, to fill an empty spot on the board for the next year.
In a special meeting Saturday, the six sitting school board members whittled down the field of candidates to two finalists. After an initial tie vote, a board member changed her pick, narrowly avoiding a coin toss to select the new member.
On Monday, Corkran will take over the seat vacated by Gretchen Guess, who resigned to move to Florida. Corkran, a former Veco Corp. official, joins the board in the midst of continuing concerns about state education funding and after recent cuts by the district to school support staff and a decision by a newly hired superintendant to leave the post after just nine months.
More than 40 candidates had applied for the empty Seat D, but by Saturday only 31 remained. The board heard from each of them in three-minute presentations, asking questions of those remaining after eliminations in later rounds. By early afternoon they had narrowed the group to the top two candidates: Corkran and Kameron Perez-Verdia, CEO of Avant-Garde Learning Alliance.
Corkran, a longtime certified public accountant, served as chief information officer for oil field services company Veco and listed as an accomplishment the successful negotiation of Veco's sale to CH2M Hill in 2007.
On his resume, Corkran said he is currently president of a company holding assets in Canada, Barbados, Russia and the Middle East. His participation with Junior Achievement of Alaska, including time as board chairman for the business education program, spurred Corkran's interest in joining the school board, he said.
Perez-Verdia said he has worked for more than 10 years to help improve Alaska schools, calling himself a "seasoned advocate and fundraising professional" and a successful grant writer.
School Board President Jeannie Mackie said both men were well-qualified to serve on the board.
"Kameron is very strong in education issues, whereas Tom is very strong in the financial and business aspect of things, and even though education is so much more than just business, I personally felt that at this particular point in time, a strong business sense and understanding of the financial situation is going to benefit the board," Mackie said.
The board members asked Corkran and Perez-Verdia a series of more pointed questions: Is it important for the district to get more state funding, and how can it accomplish that? Were the candidates interested in running again in a year?
Corkran said he would support an increase in what's known as the base student allocation, the amount of money per student that the state's budget includes for school districts.
"However, having said that, the fiscal realities we're faced with as a state and a city are changing," Corkran said. "The problem is going to become there's less of a pie to divvy up, and as a result, we will be impacted from a budgetary and fiscal standpoint."
It's a "tremendous problem," Corkran said, but one he was excited to help work on. And in a year, if it seems like it would be good for the board to run again, Corkran said he will.
The six board members placed votes for their preferred candidate and tied 3-3.
"So is it a thumb-wrestle?" Corkran said, as both he and Perez-Verdia laughed.
"Do either of you sing or dance?" Mackie asked.
Another round of questions followed, including some from other candidates already eliminated. If they were simply going to tie again, board member Don Smith said, maybe they should put off making a decision. Mackie said they would decide Saturday, even if it meant a coin toss.
"We didn't want it to come to that," she said later.
In the end, board treasurer Kathleen Plunkett changed her earlier vote to join Mackie, Smith and Natasha Von-Imhof in voting for Corkran. Board members Pat Higgins and Tam Agosti-Gisler kept their votes for Perez-Verdia.
Corkran took a seat with the rest of the board to start going over a packet of information in preparation for the board's Monday meeting.
Reach Casey Grove at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 907-257-4589.
By CASEY GROVE