The Anchorage School District has hired a lobbyist for the current legislative session at a monthly cost of $10,000, according to a disclosure filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.
The decision, which allows a maximum of $40,000 to be spent, is a departure from the district's usual reliance on the superintendent and school board members to advocate on its behalf, and represents a reversal of a board that exhibited a lack of enthusiasm about a lobbyist at a public meeting in September, when the idea was broached.
School Board President Tam Agosti-Gisler said in September that it was difficult to justify hiring a lobbyist given "the tight budget times." But she said on Friday that further reflection and discussion had prompted her and the board to change their minds and support a contract.
"You need someone in Juneau," she said. "We need our superintendent here leading our district and moving forward on initiatives and we can't afford to have her down in Juneau the whole session."
The board discussed hiring a lobbyist during an executive session this month, working behind closed doors because "it deals with personnel," Agosti-Gisler said. She said the board "gave guidance" to the superintendent that it supported a contract with a lobbyist on a month-to-month basis, she said.
Agosti-Gisler said Friday that the board viewed a lobbyist as a "good investment" for the state's largest school district, giving it a voice on topics including the reimbursement of school bond debt. Gov. Bill Walker vetoed some of that reimbursement money last year and left Anchorage on the hook for about $11 million, Agosti-Gisler said.
"It hit us at the 11th hour," she said. "We can't do that in the future without having some even more ill effects on our budget."
By Friday, eight other school districts, including the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District, had also hired lobbyists registered with the state for 2017, according to APOC.
The Anchorage School District's new lobbyist, Wendy Chamberlain, is also listed as lobbying for 17 other organizations this year, including the Alaska Association of Realtors, Anheuser-Busch Companies, the Pebble Limited Partnership and the Northwest Arctic Borough.
Chamberlain did not return a request for comment Friday and Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Paramo could not be reached.