3 Anchorage School Board members face challengers in upcoming election

This coverage of the Anchorage municipal election is being provided free as a public service. But we depend on reader support to produce independent reporting Alaskans can trust. Join thousands of others and subscribe now.

• • •

Three Anchorage School Board seats are up for grabs in the city’s April election.

The seven-member board oversees the Anchorage School District’s finances, policies and priorities. The election comes at a time when the district faces significant challenges: a major teacher shortage, a massive budget deficit, a rise in chronic absenteeism, and lagging student performance in math and reading.

Voters are able to select school board candidates now — ballots were sent out on Tuesday. They are due back by election day, April 2.

Three incumbents are facing challengers. All six candidates will appear on all Anchorage ballots.

[Compare the candidates on the issues with our side-by-side comparison tool]

Incumbent Pat Higgins is being challenged by Kay Schuster for Seat E; Schuster has run for school board before and narrowly lost, and has so far outraised Higgins.


For Seat G, incumbent Carl Jacobs is running against Chelsea Pohland, a first-time candidate who has campaigned with Schuster.

And for Seat F, incumbent Dora Wilson is running against Angela Frank, also a first-time candidate.

Anchorage’s current school board often, though not always, agrees on the proposals and policy changes it considers. Its members typically vote unanimously or with at least a six-member majority.

In this race, voters will choose between the incumbent board members, who usually vote with the majority and have backing from the teachers union and local progressive groups, and candidates who say they want to see fundamental changes to how the board operates.

Two of the challengers — Pohland and Schuster — are supported by some prominent local conservatives, and Pohland said she is a member of Moms for Liberty, a national nonprofit focused on “parental rights” that has vowed to get more candidates onto school boards nationwide.

Unlike the neighboring school district to the north, in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, the Anchorage board has largely sidestepped debates raging in other school districts across the country over issues such as bathroom policies or book bans.

Dave Donley, the board’s lone conservative-leaning member, often proposes motions that receive no seconds. The outcome of the election could change that.

Seat E

All three incumbents have served on the board since 2021. Each has been endorsed by the local teachers union and other left-leaning groups, including the Alaska Center and Planned Parenthood. Jacobs, Wilson and Higgins have also received support from current Alaska legislators and Anchorage Assembly members including George Martinez, Zac Johnson and Meg Zaletel.

If they win, each would be serving a second consecutive term on the board. Anchorage municipal code requires school board members to take at least one three-year term off after serving three consecutive terms.

One of those incumbents, Higgins, served on the school board from 2008 to 2017 and then was elected again in 2021. He works in human resources with the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska. Schuster is special education educator with the Anchorage School District who unsuccessfully ran for school board twice before.

In her most recent run in 2017, Schuster lost to current board member Andy Holleman by less than 100 votes.

Schuster has outraised Higgins in the current election — in part due to a $15,000 check she received from a single donor, John Haxby of Anchorage. She has raised more than $28,000 throughout her campaign, while Higgins has raised over $16,000, according to recent reports filed with the state. Higgins has received larger donations from the teachers union PAC, the Alaska Laborers Local 341 PAC, the IBEW and several other local unions.

On school funding — an issue that has dominated discussions in both the Anchorage School Board and the Alaska Legislature this year — Higgins and Schuster have different stances.

Higgins said he would continue advocating for increased state investment in public education, including pushing for a boost to the Base Student Allocation, or BSA, the state’s per-pupil funding formula that has remained virtually unadjusted for inflation since 2017.

“If we’re going to fix the problem, we’ve got to have enough money,” Higgins said.

On Thursday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed an education bill that overwhelmingly passed in the Alaska Legislature that contained the largest nominal school funding increase in state history. Legislators in support of the bill may override that veto in the coming days.

Higgins said that more state funding would allow districts to offer more competitive salaries to keep teachers in the state, and that teachers also needed better retirement benefits to stay.


“Our salaries are below the Lower 48, for the most part,” Higgins said. “And the fact that we don’t have a defined benefit retirement system makes it a total compensation package that’s not effective.”

Schuster said the district needed to be better at managing the money it does have, and that she supports the governor’s aim to give teachers bonuses and invest more in charter schools.

“I think we need to work within our budget, and not continually ask for more money for the schools. I think we can allocate our money much more effectively than what we’re doing right now,” Schuster said.

Schuster said the district should consider eliminating “whatever department that does not have a direct impact on the classroom,” though she would not specify which ones that might entail, indicating that more research was needed.

She also said she believed giving teachers more autonomy over their curriculums was key to improving student outcomes, and said she believed parents and principals should have more of a say in what students learn, too.

Schuster has received support from a number of prominent local conservatives, including Rep. Jamie Allard, an Eagle River Republican; longtime local GOP stalwart Judy Eledge, who last year resigned as Anchorage’s deputy public library director; and former Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan.

She also indicated in an interview she would be less likely to side with the board majority on some issues. About a recent failed proposal by Donley to notify parents when secondary students ask for a pronoun or name change in schools, Schuster said, “I don’t think we should hold anything from parents regarding their child.”

Both candidates also weighed in on whether they would be willing to remove books from school library shelves as school boards around the country — including in the Mat-Su — have in recent years and months.


“Whether it’s illustrations or words, if it’s not appropriate, it should not be in the public library,” Schuster said. “If parents are passionate about what books should be on the shelves, they should definitely have a say in it.”

Higgins said he was opposed to removing books for political reasons.

“I want all material for textbooks and materials for instruction to be professional, academically driven and age appropriate. And I don’t want that to be done based on politics,” he said.

“The Mat-Su said at one point that parents can go in and say that they don’t like a book for their kids, and they can take it off and deny all kids. I don’t agree with that,” he added.

Seat G

Incumbent Jacobs, a compliance analyst for Southcentral Foundation and a therapeutic foster parent, is running against first-time candidate and salon owner Pohland.

Pohland has three kids currently enrolled in the Anchorage School District. Four of Jacobs’ foster children are currently attending ASD schools.

Like Schuster, Pohland is backed by many prominent Alaska conservatives, and the two have campaigned together at fundraising events. Schuster and Pohland are also sisters-in-law by marriage.

Jacobs has significantly outraised Pohland: His online candidate fundraising reports showed he’d received $68,000 throughout his campaign, while Pohland had raised less than a tenth of that. Like Higgins, Jacobs received many larger donations from local unions, and also received support from other incumbent school board members.

Since being elected to the board in 2021, Jacobs has often voted with the majority. He said in an interview he was proud to have helped implement the district’s first anti-bullying online reporting tool, and proud of the work the board did this year to find a budget solution in the face of such a major shortfall.

Pohland said she’s also a member of Moms for Liberty, which recently started an Anchorage chapter. The group, formed during the pandemic, has made headlines for working to remove references to LGBTQ+ identity and race in schools around the country, and has received significant backlash from organizations including the Southern Poverty Law Center that have labeled the group as extremist and said its ideas harm minority and LGBTQ+ students.

Asked whether she would be more likely to side with the board majority or with its more conservative member on certain issues, Pohland said: “I do agree often with some of Dave Donley’s views, absolutely.”

“For any board to operate, I think it is important to at least be able to get a second from a motion; to get things into writing, to bring out that transparency. So I do believe I would be a good support to Dave Donley,” she said.


Both Jacobs and Pohland said they were committed to improving student achievement and test scores.

Jacobs touted a new career academy model the district is rolling out next year that will require students to select a career track in high school and offer real-world experience as a way to improve student engagement and success.

He said he was committed to the board’s goals, including supporting improvements in students’ reading and math, and that he hoped to continue working toward making charter and optional schools accessible to all families.

Jacobs has joined the board majority in vocally calling on the Alaska Legislature and the governor to increase state funding so the district can avoid making painful cuts, and offer more competitive teacher salaries and benefits.

“We do need leadership from Juneau to help us address recruitment and retention of educators,” he said.

Pohland said she believed the district needed to find a way to offer retirement benefits to teachers that wouldn’t drain state resources. Like the governor, Pohland said she was in favor of teacher bonuses as a way to address recruitment and retention challenges.


“In the past, there was a defined benefit, which put a pretty heavy burden on our state,” Pohland said.

She also said the district needed to consider consolidating elementary schools to save money.

“I do believe that at a certain point, we do have to make some tough decisions. One thing would probably be looking at re-zoning,” Pohland said.

Seat F

Incumbent school board member Wilson, a community outreach manager with IBEW Local 1547 and also a therapeutic foster parent, is being challenged by state employee Angela Frank, who works as a local government specialist.

Wilson has significantly outraised Frank throughout the course of her campaign: she’s received over $54,000 in donations, according to a recent filing with the state. Frank has raised less than $5,000 and has not filed a fundraising report with the state.

Wilson usually votes with the board majority, and in an interview she said her priorities are improving academic outcomes and offering career readiness trainings to students.

Both candidates had ideas on how the board could be more effective, or where there was room for improvement.

“I want to be aware that we as a board have put forth quite a bit of changes,” Wilson said, referencing the sixth grade move to middle school, changing school start times and the academies of Anchorage.

“I don’t want to see additional major changes to the schedule and things like that until we can continue really investing in what we’ve done,” she said.

Frank questioned the board’s decision to rebuild Inlet View Elementary and have students continue learning in a falling-apart school until then.

“There’s a lot of frustration that the community has toward the school board right now. And I want to be someone who can provide opportunities to allow our community to be heard,” Frank said.

Frank said she had nothing negative to say about her opponent, but said, “I bring a different perspective.”

• • •

Annie Berman

Annie Berman is a reporter covering health care, education and general assignments for the Anchorage Daily News. She previously reported for Mission Local and KQED in San Francisco before joining ADN in 2020. Contact her at