Mat-Su school board seats go before voters after months of contentious decisions

PALMER — Two contested Mat-Su school board seats go before voters in local elections Tuesday after a series of controversial decisions by the board this school year.

Other races to be decided by Matanuska-Susitna Borough voters include a bond to fund road and pedestrian walkway improvements as well as two contested assembly seats.

In school board races, incumbent member Kathy McCollum. is running for reelection in District 3 against Sydney Zuyus, who works in communications at the Mat-Su Health Foundation. In District 6, Dianne Shibe, former president of the Mat-Su Education Association teacher’s union, is challenging longtime board member Ole Larson.

Although considered nonpartisan, the campaigns to serve on the school board have become the target of a heated debate over values after a year of controversial school board decisions starting last October as the board banned transgender students from using the bathroom of their choice.

In April, the board approved a citizen advisory committee to analyze 56 books flagged by community members as controversial. In June, the board voted to require parental consent for student pronoun changes, while also banning teachers for any statements that could be interpreted as “activism.”

Then, after approving increases to high school graduation requirements and narrowly avoiding a teacher strike in August, the board in September voted to drastically limit the role of its student representative. Amid student protests, the board launched a formal investigation into whether teachers had helped coordinate statements and protest materials; the investigation found no inappropriate actions by staff, district officials said at the time.

Hundreds of students across the Mat-Su staged a nonpartisan classroom walkout Oct. 31 to bring attention to Tuesday’s election and what organizers called “anti-student” policies passed by the board. A second walkout is planned for Tuesday.


Students walking out at Career & Tech, Redington and Colony high schools must protest at least 200 feet from the building’s entrance because the schools are designated polling places, organizers said in social media posts. Alaska state law prohibits campaign or election activities within that zone.

Any protesters on the campuses of those three schools will be escorted by administrators to an off-campus location adjacent to school property, school district officials said in an email to parents sent Monday.

Meanwhile, the Mat-Su election also includes a borough-wide bond proposal that, if approved, would provide half of the funding for $76 million in road improvements and pedestrian walkway improvements. Even if approved by voters, the work would then only be completed if the state chipped in the other half of the funding.

[New Mat-Su plan envisions 130 miles of new walking and cycling paths in Alaska’s fastest-growing region]

Three borough assembly seats are also up for reelection.

In District 5, which includes Big Lake, Clayton “Mokie” Tew is running for reelection against Bill Gamble. In District 6, which includes northwest Wasilla, incumbent Dimitri Fonov is running against Jackson Abney, Kerby Coman and Stafford Glashan. In District 4, which includes the city of Wasilla, Rob Yundt is running unopposed.

Tuesday’s ballot includes no statewide elections, which are held in even years. About 18% of Mat-Su voters turned out in 2021, the last year in which no statewide races were on the ballot.

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Amy Bushatz

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