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Anchorage School Board picks a new member after weekend ruckus

Lisa Demer
Kameron Perez-Verdia, right, is sworn in as an Anchorage School Board member by U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Smith Monday evening April 1, 2013 at Anchorage School District headquarters.
Erik Hill
Kameron Perez-Verdia, right, is sworn in as an Anchorage School Board member by U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Smith Monday evening April 1, 2013 at Anchorage School District headquarters.
Erik Hill

Meet the Anchorage School Board's new-new member.

Kameron Perez-Verdia, 41 and the head of a nonprofit educational organization, was named Monday evening to fill an empty board seat that opened up March 1 when then-board member Gretchen Guess resigned for a job move to Florida.

Perez-Verdia was a close second on Saturday when the board picked former Veco Corp. executive Thomas Corkran. After questions arose Sunday over whether Corkran had been properly vetted, he withdrew.

The board voted 4-1 to appoint Perez-Verdia on Monday, with member Don Smith arguing to reopen the selection process. He ultimately was the lone "nay" vote. School board member Pat Higgins was absent Monday.

Perez-Verdia is chief executive officer of Avant-Garde Learning Alliance, which creates workshops for schools and community groups. His mother, former Alaska education commissioner Shirley Holloway, founded the organization. He took the last name of his wife, Monica, when they married, and both they and their young children now have the middle name of Holloway, he said.

He was raised in Barrow, where both of his parents were educators and the family home was a gathering place for teachers and for discussions about education.

"I grew up in a place where there wasn't a whole lot to do in the dark and cold time of the year, so you spent a lot of time talking to people and visiting with people," he said before Monday's meeting. Those same close community connections exist in Anchorage and can be built upon for the benefit of the schools, he said.

Perez-Verdia's resume includes a long list of high-level jobs with nonprofit groups, including in Colorado where he earned an MBA at the University of Denver.  He was senior vice president of the Girl Scouts of Colorado and executive director of a Colorado social services organization that among other areas worked in child abuse prevention. In Anchorage, he was a director for Catholic Social Services, education manager for Cook Inlet Tribal Council, and director of student services at Charter College.

On Saturday, the board interviewed 31 candidates, narrowed the group to seven, then split 3-3 between the two finalists, Perez-Verdia and Corkran. One of the final seven then withdrew in favor of Perez-Verdia but all five remaining should be reconsidered, Smith said Monday evening.

"You are allowing a person to win this appointment by default," Smith said, reading from a prepared statement. He argued that the board was being intimidated by liberal bloggers and the Daily News. He indicated he thought Perez-Verdia would favor special interests without being specific. Between the two, Corkran was the more conservative choice.

"Under the present process we are railroading an individual into a seat," Smith said.

But board president Jeannie Mackie said the board had worked hard to narrow the candidates to two, and that Monday's vote would be on Perez-Verdia alone. Under municipal and state law and board policy, the board has 30 days to fill a vacant seat. Its deadline was Monday.

During Saturday's lengthy interviews of the final two, the board failed to ask Corkran, who was Veco's controller, a single question about his work for the oil field services contractor during an era two of its top officials went to prison for political corruption. Some members said later they were unaware that he even worked directly for the company, where he spent more than 16 years. He didn't list it on his resume.

Board member Natasha von Imhof, who had pushed on Saturday for Corkran, said the board was lucky to have two good choices. She said she now supported Perez-Verdia.

"I truly regret that this appointment process has been rocky," von Imhof said. "If I could rewind the clock the last few days and do a few things differently to avoid this fallout, yes. I think I would try to do some of that."

She said the board applications were posted on line for a full week, and that the public could have vetted candidates. She gave a tongue lashing to critics of the board's actions.

"Yesterday was Easter. Rather than making productive use of their time, like skiing in the sun or eating with their families, several members of this community conducted a smear campaign and a media kangaroo court, thereby resulting in a good person declining the opportunity to serve on the School Board," von Imhof said. "This is a tremendous loss to this board and this community."

Her voice rising, she talked about how the district is experiencing a budget crisis that is likely to worsen and urged the audience to put bias and political affiliations aside.

After the board vote, a federal magistrate judge, Deborah Smith, swore in Perez-Verdia.

The crowd clapped, loudly. He soon took his seat with the other board members.

 

Reach Lisa Demer at ldemer@adn.com or 257-4390.

 

 


By LISA DEMER
ldemer@adn.com