Opinions

Donley intentionally misrepresents Anchorage school board mask debate

Tuesday night, the Anchorage School Board listened to the superintendent’s update on school COVID-19 mitigation procedures. Of particular interest to the public was the requirement to wear masks. Although this issue was not before the board for a vote, board member Dave Donley proceeded to derail the meeting with an inordinate number of inappropriate “motions.”

This would not necessarily be newsworthy but for Mr. Donley taking the time to write an op-ed intentionally misleading the public about his efforts.

Here are three reasons why his political charade matters.

1. A politician knowingly misled the public and provided false information. We can only hold politicians accountable for their actions if the public knows what they are up to.

2. If this is an issue you care about, then you have a right to know how decisions are made.

3. The large majority of Anchorage students are not reading at the minimum levels of proficiency. This will have consequences in our state for decades. Every hour that a board member wastes pulls time and money away from helping kids learn.

Mr. Donley wrote that he proposed three amendments to a mask policy and that all of his motions failed because no one else seconded them. He claimed that “(t)he plan then went into effect without the board actually voting to adopt it.”

This is an incorrect statement. The school board president repeatedly reminded Mr. Donley that this was not an action item to be voted on. That means there was nothing for him to amend. It was not possible to second his invalid motions.

Donley also knows he cannot make a motion during random moments in a school board meeting. Motions must be on the agenda. He knows how to amend the agenda and has done it many times. He knows the legal notice requirements of the board when making significant changes impacting enrollment.

Entering his fifth year on the school board, he should know exactly how this process works. He has been coached and corrected and taught Robert’s Rules. Additionally, it is all spelled out in the board bylaws, which are public and easy to access.

He injected this and other lengthy political theater, knowing his actions were not procedurally permissible. And if he still does not understand that process, after all this time and expense, then the public has a right to know that their elected representative is unable to meaningfully participate on the school board.

The school board vice president attempted three times to remind Mr. Donley of the authority the board gave the superintendent last August on this very issue. That vote clarified that the superintendent would manage the mitigation plans to allow for maximum flexibility. Mr. Donley voted for that authorization. The vice president’s efforts to highlight this memory lapse were ignored.

Mr. Donley requested in his op-ed that “the superintendent and (his) fellow board members ... reconsider and actively seek alternatives to mandatory masking of all students.” To be sure, Mr. Donley has the full opportunity to participate in the board’s simple and open agenda-setting process. All that’s required is a quick email to the board president asking for it to be on the agenda with one other board member’s support. This allows for appropriate notice to the public.

But to do any of that, as he already knows, the board first has to revoke or modify the superintendent’s authority over the mitigations plans, and then he can present motions to manage the district’s operations.

However, Mr. Donley would be wise to remember that there is a significant body of research that shows when boards start messing with the management of their districts, student achievement tanks.

None of this is to weigh in on whether masks are good or bad, but rather, this is to address the seriousness of a politician misleading the public and blatantly ignoring school board policies for personal political gain.

Our property tax dollars pay this man’s generous school board salary, and our public dollars pay his large salary as the deputy commissioner of Administration for the State of Alaska. We can only hope he runs his Department of Administration duties with greater skill and less waste of taxpayers’ time, money and resources.

Starr Marsett is a Realtor and served on the Anchorage School Board for five years, including two years as board president. Alisha Hilde is an attorney who also served on the Anchorage School Board and coaches school boards across the country on how to improve student learning.

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