Mat-Su school board considers elimination of student representative position

PALMER — A student representative position that has been part of Mat-Su school board meetings for more than 40 years could be eliminated under a proposed policy change the board will consider next week.

The proposal follows the board’s September 2023 decision to sharply limit the representative’s participation in meetings.

The new proposal would end the student representative’s inclusion in board meetings and instead bring in a rotating group of students selected by administrators to represent schools throughout the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District. Student government representatives would also be invited to give a quarterly report, the proposal says.

The change was proposed to expand the perspectives shared during school board meetings from one representative to students across the entire district, according to a board policy statement.

“With the exception of some changes made during this school year, the Student Advisory Board has been the sole source for student input in the board’s deliberative process,” the statement says. “The policy revisions transition from a single source of information on behalf of all students to a regular rotation of different student groups more representative of the varied needs, priorities, and viewpoints of all schools.”

The school board is scheduled to vote on the measure at its Tuesday meeting.

Under current policy, the student representative makes regular reports to the school board on actions and activities of the Student Advisory Board, according to current school board policy. That board includes students elected to their positions by student government groups at the majority of Mat-Su secondary schools, including charter schools, according to its website.


While all district middle, high and charter schools are invited to send student government representatives to the district’s student board, not all participate, said Ocelia Bell, an incoming Wasilla High School junior who will serve as a school board representative for the 2024-25 school year. For example, Colony Middle School and Redington High School do not currently have representatives on the board.

From 2019 to 2023, all students elected to the organization’s executive board attended either Wasilla or Career & Technical high schools, according to the Student Advisory Board website.

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The student representative role was created in 1979. The school board in September 2023 voted to reduce the student representative’s interactions with the board and ended the representative’s symbolic vote on board proposals. At a meeting the month before, the student representative’s seat was moved into the audience without explanation.

Those changes were made after then-student representative and Career & Technical High School senior Ben Kolendo challenged a number of school board policies, including the selection of a contentious library committee.

Kolendo, who graduated this month, has announced plans to run for the school board in November. He is also one of two now-former student plaintiffs in an ongoing lawsuit against the district. That suit contends that district officials violated their free speech rights by directing an investigation into a school board protest and blocking political statements on campus.

Amy Bushatz

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