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Anchorage School Board candidate Q&A: What would you cut, keep, or add?

  • Author: Anchorage Daily News
  • Updated: March 28, 2018
  • Published March 6, 2018

The Anchorage Daily News asked candidates for mayor and the Anchorage School Board in the April 3 election to answer a series of questions on issues facing the city and the Anchorage School District. We're publishing their responses daily. The answers were fact-checked when facts were cited and edited for spelling, grammar and writing style.

In this part, School Board candidates say how they would address the Anchorage School District's budget gap, and what, if anything, they would fight to keep or add.

Seat E

Alisha Hilde
Age: 35
Occupation: Attorney

We should not cut teacher positions. We can improve building capacity issues and increase financial transparency to better compare budgets across the district and identify efficiencies and innovation. Health care costs drive our budget challenges, and the new health care program will hopefully address some of that stress. I would continue to push for these long-term budget solutions. We can realign our budget to keep teachers in the classroom and make sure our students have safe, clean schools in which to learn. As a former middle school band director, I support keeping arts and sports as a part of public education.

Tasha Hotch
Age: 40
Occupation: Program manager for the Alaska Community Health Aide program

The status quo is not working, we need to work with the state to get the budget that will meet our needs. This includes working on a hold-harmless agreement as we consolidate schools. I have been very vocal at community budget conversations that we need to keep physical education and electives in our schools. Early education available for all preschool-age students is something I would like to add.

David Nees
Age: Declined to say
Occupation: Retired math teacher, volunteer Alaska Policy Forum education researcher

According to their 1997 and 2017 CAFRs (Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports) the ASD now receives 113 percent more state formula funding then it did 20 years ago, averaging a 10 percent increase per year. Enrollment numbers however now match 1997-98 school year. There has been an increase in the number of teachers. The school board has for 40 years used the threat of teacher cuts to extort more funds from the Legislature. Since 1997-98 the ASD has steadily increased staffing from 5,502 employees to 5,702. Non-classroom staffing increased in the following areas, based on median income from 2016-2017 total compensation report: 47 administration positions ($7.7 million), 28 principals ($4.5 million), 64 technical ($5.8 million), 98 clerical and teacher's assistants ($8.7 million). If ASD would just staff those four areas at 1997 levels there would be no budget shortfall, there would be a surplus.

*Note: School district officials disputed some parts of this response. Chief financial officer Jim Anderson wrote in an email that ASD does not operate in the same environment or with the same structure as in 1997. Andy Ratliff, senior director of the Office of Management and Budget, said he could not verify the cost associated with the increased positions or the amount given as the increase in state formula funding.

Don Smith
Age: 78
Occupation: Retired Anchorage business owner

The entire budget is on the table. I believe that we are facing a $15 million dollar shortfall this year. I believe that we are going to need to close several elementary schools and realign school boundaries. Efficiencies in the operation of the ASD will not make up the loss of $15 million dollars. I'm sure that there are school board candidates who will talk about getting the Legislature to add to the various School District budgets, however, the state is also in deep financial trouble.

Ron Stafford
Age: 68
Job: Transportation consultant

Having not studied the budget to see where they spend their money, I think some of the things that are important to school (students) are the extracurricular activities, band and drama, things like that, to teach the students a whole new aspect that they don't really get in the classroom. I think it's very important to expand their learning opportunities. Those are the things I think should be kept or possibly increased.

Seat F

Phil Isley
Age: 62
Occupation: A&P Mechanic

Everything but teachers should be on the table.

Deena Mitchell
Age: 56
Occupation: Currently a parent, volunteer and homemaker. Past: Advertising executive, economics instructor at Indiana University

There is no easy answer. After years of flat funding, we are now only able to do less with less. Public education is the foundation of our economy. We must find the will to invest and create increased opportunities for our future:
• Make decisions in the best interest of every student
• Listen to those on the front lines, and give them an influential voice in resource allocation within schools
• Ensure every student has someone in school who knows them, believes in their potential, and is there for them.
It is through these relationships with our students, and our work together, that we can transform lives and create a bright future for every student, and for Alaska.

Seat G

Elisa Snelling
Age: 39
Occupation: Accountant and current School Board member

I work to hold the classroom harmless, however our budget is 90 percent people. I look towards across the board cuts, not just one sector. Cuts of any sort are not easy, but they are necessary to balance the budget by law.

Irene Weisman
Age: 21
Occupation: Stay-at-home mom

I'll be honest here, I do not know enough about the budget at this point in time to be able to say what I would cut. However, I would fight not to cut educators and support staff because they are the backbone of schools and are our only asset to preventing larger class sizes. I would also work to add better work readiness education so that our students are prepared to enter the workforce and boost the economy and most importantly I strongly and passionately advocate for public preschool availability, especially for at-risk students. Preschool education lowers the failure rates and raises the graduation rates of our students, it also lowers crime rates and improves the general economy.