OPINION: Dunleavy is no authority on what’s best for schools

Why is anyone listening to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s pronouncements about education, education funding, and the utility of a defined-benefit pension program as a recruitment and retention incentive for prospective teachers — and other public employees — in Alaska? Regarding his opposition to the defined-benefit retirement proposal, why would he deny other state employees access to a pension option similar to, although less lucrative than, the kind of retirement that he will eventually enjoy as a Tier I retiree?

Mike Dunleavy has promoted himself as an experienced educator and educational administrator. He did work for a relatively brief time as an elementary school teacher, but moved quickly into mid- and eventually upper-level administrative positions, during which his top-down, authoritative management style became apparent. A brief stint as superintendent of the Northwest Arctic Borough School District ended without fanfare — even though he had negotiated a lucrative contract a short time before he resigned — and after asking for additional monies, since he said he had been spending a lot of evenings and weekends on superintendent responsibilities. I know of no educational administrator who sees his or her job as being limited to 40 hours a week. And a 2018 Anchorage Press commentary reporting on the emergence of a teacher retention crisis during his tenure was headlined: “Mike Dunleavy was a disaster for Kotzebue schools.”

His gubernatorial tenure has been no less a disaster for public education. His budget cuts to education have been well-publicized and devastating. Journalist Dermot Cole noted in June 2023 that 85% of his recent vetoes fell on education services and projects. And his stance against increasing the Base Student Allocation — which, in addition to paying teacher salaries, also pays school utility bills, keeping the lights and the heat on, as well as maintaining school buildings. Does Gov. Dunleavy not understand that teacher bonuses will do nothing to ensure well-lit, heated and well-maintained school buildings? Instead, Gov. Dunleavy proposes teacher bonuses as a recruitment and retention strategy and suggests that the state’s public education outcomes would be improved by expanding charter schools and subjecting them to less local and more state control.

He also supports expansion of home schooling with no way to evaluate the curriculum, teacher credentials or outcomes of home-schooling, all of which he demands of the public education system the state is obligated to provide to its citizens. Is he unaware that charter schools have deliberately limited enrollments and much lower student-teacher ratios than non-charter schools? Does he not realize that it is local action that makes the case for and enables the success of most charter schools, that community and parental engagement is crucial for that success and that requirements for parental engagement make charter school enrollment out of reach for many low-income parents?

I sincerely hope that the Legislature defies Gov. Dunleavy’s pronouncements about what is best for public education in Alaska. He has already demonstrated that he is no authority on what will actually work.

Tina DeLapp, EdD, RN, FAAN, is the mother of two ASD graduates who attended Anchorage schools when they were adequately funded.

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