Mat-Su school board eliminates student representative position

The Mat-Su school board on Wednesday voted to eliminate a longstanding student representative position, a move that began last year after a former representative voiced concerns over several board decisions.

The board voted 6-1 to remove the position that for the past 40 years allowed a student elected by peers to sit with the board as a member representing the student body.

Under the revised policy, administrators will instead select a rotating group of students to represent schools throughout the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District. Student government representatives will also be invited to give quarterly reports.

The action follows the board’s September 2023 decision to sharply limit the representative’s participation after former representative Ben Kolendo raised concerns about several decisions including the selection process for a challenged book committee.

Officials say the district established the Student Advisory Board that selects the representative in 1979, when the district had only about 4,000 students. Now there are nearly 20,000.

“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,” according to a memo posted with the policy.

The vote came with little discussion from most board members. Ted Swanson, the lone “no” vote, failed to get the board to consider a motion to keep the student representative while adding regular updates from additional student organizations.


The representative reported to the school board on actions and activities of the Student Advisory Board, which includes members elected by student government groups at most Mat-Su secondary schools.

Ocelia Bell, an incoming Wasilla High School junior, was chosen to serve as school board representative for the 2024-25 school year. Bell addressed the school board Wednesday during a regularly scheduled time for the representative’s report.

“Meaningful youth engagement should go beyond symbolism, leading to real contributions and development,” Bell said, reading from notes on her laptop. “Effort to diminish the role of Student Advisory Board is not good for students, (their) voices or their best interests. Even if the actions are considered reconstructing, they’re still attempts to control and silence student voices.”

Kolendo, who graduated this month, has announced plans to run for the school board in November. He is also one of two plaintiffs in an ongoing lawsuit against the district that contends officials violated their rights to free speech with an investigation into school board protests and restrictions on political statements.

The board’s decision on the new policy was effective immediately, district officials say. The next school board meeting is in August.