Mat-Su school staff issue ‘no confidence’ vote to district leadership ahead of planned student walkout

PALMER — Members of a teachers union this week issued a vote of “no confidence” in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District’s school board and superintendent.

The vote comes as students work to organize an Oct. 31 walkout to protest district policies ahead of the upcoming school board election on Nov. 7. School board members Ole Larson and Kathy McCollum are running for reelection.

The vote — held between Oct. 16 and 20 by the Mat-Su Education Association — polled 1,052 district workers, including union and non-union member teachers, librarians, counselors, nurses and student support specialists, according to a statement from the union.

Of those, just over 93% said they have “no confidence that many decisions made by the school board are driven by the needs and best interests of all students,” according to the union. Slightly less, just over 91%, agreed with a similar statement regarding Superintendent Randy Trani.

The no-confidence vote came as a surprise to school district officials, who said they were not told of a forthcoming ballot despite regular meetings with union officials.

“Regardless of the outcome, the board and administration will continue to strive for the high results we have started realizing,” district spokeswoman Jillian Morrissey said in a statement.

The vote comes after months of tense relations between employees and the school board. A teacher strike was narrowly avoided in August as the district and union haggled over staff salaries and retirement and health care benefits. And in June, the school board voted to block employees from participating during school hours in any activity or instruction that could be interpreted as “activism.”


Meanwhile, a pair of students at Career & Technical High School near Wasilla have organized a districtwide student walkout Tuesday in protest of a series of recent school board decisions that they say negatively affect students. Lily Shea and Riley Flinn, both juniors, asked students to walk out of their classes and meet at school flagpoles.

Shea and Flinn said in social media posts that those policies include a school board-directed investigation into student protests; changes to high school graduation credit requirements; a school board decision to drastically limit the role of the student representative on the board; and a citizen advisory committee formed to analyze 56 books flagged as controversial.

[Mat-Su school district investigated teachers over student-led protest]

Shea and Flinn, who are both active in student government, are asking students to walk out for 56 minutes starting at 10 a.m. The timeline was selected to match the number of challenged books up for review, they said in the Instagram posts.

“It is important to remember that this is not a protest against our education,” they wrote. “When protesting, be respectful of your peers and campuses.”

[Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported which union was involved in a “no confidence” vote. The vote was held by the Mat-Su Education Association, not the Mat-Su Classified Employees’ Association.]

Amy Bushatz

Amy Bushatz is a veteran journalist based in the Mat-Su covering Valley news for the ADN.