Anchorage School Board candidate Q&As: What are your thoughts on the current and proposed Anchorage School District budgets?

In advance of the April 6 Anchorage municipal election, the Anchorage Daily News asked candidates running for Anchorage School Board a series of issue questions. These include questions suggested by readers. Read all the mayor and school board candidates’ responses here.

Q: What are your thoughts on the current and proposed Anchorage School District budgets?

SEAT B (1-year-term)

Mark Anthony Cox

The Anchorage School Board is not running efficiently from a business perspective, which is reflected in the proposed budget which addresses the maintenance concerns but overlooks our greatest asset: our students and the teachers.

Judy Norton Eledge

ASD must begin to look at ways to cut costs. The State of Alaska can no longer continue to fund education as in the past. How can the ASD budget be larger than the municipal budget? When I hear a school board member state there is a $7 million budget shortfall for student transportation because we wanted to keep our employees employed this past year, and so we delivered lunches and chrome computers by bus I am appalled. How is that being efficient?

Kelly Lessens

Thanks to an influx of federal funds, ASD’s FY 21-22 budget does not reflect years of inadequate funding. We didn’t have to ask for millions of dollars in supplemental funds, or figure out which cuts would hurt kids the least. ASD is asked to educate large numbers of children who are fundamentally under-prepared to enter the K-12 system, who enter school with high rates of poverty, language deficiencies, adverse childhood experiences, and/or need IEPs. ASD has not yet funded evidence-based pupil to teacher ratios, and is unable to provide SPED and ELL programs the resources, staffing, and professional development they need. It’s time for the Legislature to adjust the BSA and for the State to adjust ASD’s “Cost Factor.”

Marilyn Stewart

Eighty-seven to 97% of the ASD budget goes toward personnel. With the reduction in student allocation due to the pandemic. I have some concerns.


Rachel Blakeslee

I admire the budget that ASD was able to create amid so many financial challenges, and I largely align with the associated guardrails informed by community input. However, I remain skeptical at how ASD will be able to uphold its commitment to attract new, diverse talent while noting we’re at risk of cutting 750+ teaching jobs in the next few years without additional revenue sources. Additionally, I was struck by the fact that the budget for superintendent expenditures increased by $1M, despite the huge deficits we’re facing. If we’re asking our teachers and students to do more with less as a result of the pandemic and longstanding budget issues, I think it’s only fair we ask the same of our leadership’s operating needs.

Edgar Blatchford

The bottom line in all of the budgets I have had to cut, from city and state budgets, to private business budgets, is fairness. The simple questions are always going to be, is the budget fair to all and does it fall within the guidelines of the mission statement of the reason why we have the Anchorage School District? I strongly suggest that an honest and fair budget can be implemented if we concentrate on the delivery of services that promote high achievement results. I think that learning in classroom can be as important as learning to play a violin or playing on a hockey team. Social networking is absolutely important in our increasingly global environment. Working alone on a mountain top is no longer the way to compete. The future depends on how well we work with others.

Sami Graham

$841,318,521 is a LOT of money. Let’s use it to boost student achievement.

Pat Higgins

My overall view of the ASD budget is that the state is underfunding public education. Based on the Picus Odden study with a focus on classroom size and administration cost, ASD is underfunded by over $120 million. Our class sizes are much higher that the majority of Lower 48 school districts. I am concerned that administration cost is increasing. This is an area that should be of concern to the board. When I was on the board from 2008 to 2017, we cut administration cost every year. The budget has a deficit between $25 million and $30 million this year, due to less students and costs associated with the pandemic. The board is hoping federal funds will cover this deficit, but that is uncertain at this time. I believe the board and administration need to have a better contingency plan.

Alisha Hilde*

We are required to approve a balanced budget, and the amount of our budget is driven by student enrollment and state and local funding. My goal is to make sure we get a great return on the public’s generous investment. Every dollar should be prioritized toward student learning. Time is an expensive resource, and I expect we’ll ultimately see greater efficiency with the infusion of technology so teachers and staff can spend more of their valuable time working directly with students. I support a budget that promotes innovation in improving education for all students. Federal COVID relief money has helped overcome our budget shortfall, but long-term planning is critical to our district’s success.

Nial Sherwood Williams

The budgets are out of whack. They are not balanced as is statutorily required. I would put a stop to the reckless overspending.


Kim Paulson

At over 400 pages, I have yet to review the entire budget at the time of this submission. Please check my website for an updated answer:

Marcus Sanders

ASD students have lost 116 days of reading time during the early stages of the pandemic last year and 215 days of math work. We need to conduct a cost-benefit analysis to detail the cost for all programs and measure effective improvement in reading and math proficiencies. Concentrate dollars on those programs that improve proficiencies.

Dora Wilson

Recent years of state-level politics have made it clear that education is not a top priority in the budget. The global pandemic, coupled with low oil price increases, strained our economy and created a budget shortfall for Alaska. Within the district, we must commit to using what we have efficiently. My experience in business drives my desire to ensure that we are prioritizing our budget in a way that is student-focused. There is also an amazing asset that I do not believe has been fully utilized by the Anchorage School District to date – the community of Anchorage. On the school board, I will strengthen these community partnerships and dive deeper into efficiencies to help our district meet the needs of students.


Carl Jacobs

In any organization with a budget north of $800 million, finding efficiencies and properly allocating resources is essential. Credibility and public trust are generated when our district acts as a good steward of public funds. The recent budget development process was especially noteworthy, as the proposed budget shortfall of over $20 million was only filled with one-time federal funding. If ASD remains flat-funded in future years, our community will face extremely challenging decisions on what we value most in our system of education. As an elected member of the Anchorage School Board, I will both advocate for adequate funding necessary to ensure the success of all children, and also hold our district accountable with the resources it is entrusted to spend.

Elisa Vakalis*

We recently adopted the budget and the ESSR2 funds saved us from a significant shortfall. While we are lucky to have the funds, the idea that we are keeping 235 teaching positions with one-time funds is concerning. We will have to address major shortfalls in the coming years. I support the use of these funds, however, as they will be used as intended, to open schools, address learning loss, pay for technology, curriculum, or other learning supports. As a board member who has served as treasurer and finance committee chair, I am prepared to tackle any budget questions to ensure future budgets support children’s learning outcomes.

* Incumbents

Read more Q&As with Anchorage School Board candidates:

Why are you running?

Why are you qualified to serve as an Anchorage School Board member?

What’s your vision for education in Anchorage?

Rate the school district’s performance during the pandemic. What specifically would you have done differently?

What do you believe is the single most important issue facing the Anchorage School District? How would you address it if elected?

If you could change one thing in the Anchorage School District, what would it be?

Do you have areas of concern about student achievement in the Anchorage School District? What are your specific suggestions for improvement?

What are your thoughts on the current and proposed Anchorage School District budgets?

Are there specific curriculum changes you would advocate? Describe them and the reason you want to see a change.

The school district used distance learning extensively over the past year. Once in-person classes fully return, would you like to see continuing or additional distance-learning options offered?

Does Anchorage need better preschool options?

What steps should ASD take to improve its career and technical education curriculum?

Achievement gaps persist in the Anchorage School District among economic, racial and ethnic groups of students. What should the district do to close them?

Are you happy with current class sizes in the district? Would you suggest specific changes?

Is the Anchorage School District currently doing a good job of retaining quality teachers? What steps, if any, should the school board take to improve teacher retention?

Please discuss your commitment to transparency and open government as it relates to the school board and Anchorage School District. Would you push for changes?

What other important issue would you like to discuss?