Thursday, April 02, 2009

Anchorage 2009 School Board Candidates Square Off On KAKM Channel 7's "Running"; Marc Grober And Steve Pratt Both Oppose HB33

Candidates for the four different school board seats being contested by 23 different candidates in the April 7th Anchorage municipal election squared off on the "Running" program aired by KAKM Channel 7 in Anchorage on April 1st, 2009. Audio archives will be posted on the KAKM website during the next 24 hours. Static page on all school board candidates HERE.

Because of the sheer volume of candidates, the format was different this time. Moderators Michael Carey and Len Anderson asked all the questions. They did not necessarily ask the same questions of each candidate. Candidates were not permitted to ask each other questions, as is normally done. Because of the continued lack of media publicity of this race, I am posting my assessments below:

Mia Costello, Seat B: Solid delivery, although she probably gave more information than necessary in her opening statement. If cuts were necessary, she would cut admin first. Believes the school board needs to be more selective on implementing new programs. No Child Left Behind a good concept, but implementation results in too much testing; more flexibility needed. Solid educational foundation defined as communciations, math, and voc-ed.

Steve Pratt, Seat B: Superb verbal delivery, speaks better than he writes. Strongly emphasized his background as an economist as an asset towards determining optimal resource allocation. Believes ASD has good transparency, but engagement skills could be improved. Opposes HB33 which would keep kids in school until age 18; believes keeping kids older than 16 in school against their will could be excessively disruptive and expensive. Would prefer that the HB33 funds be re-directed towards additional teacher hire.

Jeannie Mackie, Seat B incumbent: Seemed nervous and unsure of herself. Focused on attracting and keeping high-quality teachers. Concerned about the ASD dropout rate, but excessively racializes the problem. This stems from her childhood experiences in Nenana. Supports both Proposition 1 and 2. Well-intentioned candidate, but not ready for prime time. I'm not sure what the school board saw in her when they appointed her.

Starr Marsett, Seat B: Exudes enthusiasm and confidence. Grandmother of an autistic child, vigorously supports mainstreaming of special needs kids even at the potential risk of creating a disruptive classroom environment. This would seem to fly in the face of her other goal of ensuring that teachers spend more time teaching and less time managing. Would not turn down Federal stimulus funds, as long as there are no strings attached. Thinks NCLB is too inflexible; too many teachers teaching the tests. If budget cuts are necessary, would cut admin first. Opines that too many teachers find it necessary to buy school supplies with personal funds.

Marc Grober, Seat B: Solid, articulate delivery. Reiterated his relevant background as an attorney and an IT specialist. Believes his history of launching litigation would not impact relationships with other board members. Thinks board members act too often as "assistant superintendents", all singing from the same sheet of music. Believes more discussion is necessary. Periodic budget review process, as currently implemented, encourages the superintendent to use it to gain cover; recommends the budget review process be continuous. Rates Carol Comeau a C-. Wants to extend the school year to improve continuity between one year and the next. Also opposes HB33 which would keep kids in school until age 18; believes keeping kids older than 16 in school against their will could be excessively disruptive and expensive.

Richard Foster, Seat B: Good delivery. Favors more parental involvement. Wants a return to defined benefits as a recruiting tool. Otherwise did not traffic in specifics. Interest in ASD commendable, but not ready for prime time.

William P.H. Nye, Seat B: Enthusiastic if slightly disorganized delivery. Thinks ASD pays more attention to buildings than to teachers. Considers reading and writing to be a part of voc-ed (or at least a necessary precursor), since many trade workers are required to pass written tests to qualify for jobs. Favors more business partnerships to help solve funding problems. Wants to replace school buses with public transportation (this does not work well in some cities, and creates disciplinary problems aboard city buses). Believes district too top-heavy in admin. Supports both school bonds.

David Boyle, Seat B: Very organized and measured delivery. Identifies the dropout rate as ASD's greatest weakness. Continues to be the one candidate openly and persistently stressing the need for more discipline; wants teachers to post homework assignments on-line so that parents could verify. School board should ask more probing questions of the administration during board meetings. Students in the middle being neglected.

Nels Johnson, Seat B: Good delivery. Interesting background; worked as a student teacher in Australia and New Zealand, noted they had smaller class sizes and more funding. Believes the size of ASD's budget is too small, but is willing to work within existing constraints. Considers critical thinking skills the most important attribute which public education can develop; believes NCLB and its emphasis on constant testing hinders the development of critical thinking. Supports both school bonds.

Stephen Johnston, Seat B: Good delivery. Believes NCLB is a good concept, the only problem is underfunding. Mayor and superintendent must work together to determine if unnecessary duplication of services is occurring. Acknowledges that high schools may be too large for some students, but the presence of smaller learning communities and alternative schools mitigates the problem. Concerned with high activity fees; believes it was a mistake to take the "junk food" out of the vending machines because the students can still go off campus to get junk food thanks to ASD's open campus policy (vending machines helped fund activities).

The remaining Seat B candidates Jennifer Lucas, Dan Garcia, and Michele Quier did not participate.

James LaBelle, Seat E: Good delivery, improvement since his 2008 candidacy. Focused upon diversity, although he has since clarified that he doesn't mean only racial diversity. Concerned about how low-income parents can increase their involvement in their kids' education when they're working two jobs at a time. Gives Carol Comeau a B.

Bobby Jo Kramer, Seat E: Good delivery. Focused on Alaska Native interests, almost to the exclusion of other ethnicities. Understandable, since she spent considerable time in Pilot Point and is a former member of the Lakes and Peninsula School Board, but this tilt can alienate people of other ethnicities. Supports both school bonds.

Kathleen Plunkett, Seat E: Good delivery. Former accountant, an eye for the bottom line. Extensive community involvement and a former ASD Volunteer of the Year. Believes safe schools require safe surrounding communities. Considers ASD deficient in communications.

Don Smith, Seat E. Professional delivery, reflects his background as a former Assembly Member and state legislator. Father of the tax cap; a pronounced fiscal conservative. Refuses to promise what he feels he cannot deliver; at a recent AEA forum, refused to give AEA a "blank check". Believes special needs programs can be cut if necessary by reducing mainstreaming of special needs kids. Considers mainstreaming excessively disruptive and believes it holds back other kids. Teachers spending too much time managing and not enough time teaching. Believes ASD neglects the average kids in the middle. Opposes the school bonds.

Jody Smith, Seat E. Good delivery. Believes educators need to be represented on the school board; her experience as a teacher would provide that representation. Criticized the lack of media interest in the school board campaigns. Otherwise offered nothing really different or in addition to what is already on her platform.

The remaining Seat E candidates Michael Lindbeck and Marilyn Stewart did not participate.

Seat F: Incumbent Jeff Friedman vs. Dawn Bundick. This only requires a brief assessment. Friedman and Bundick both are concerned with dropout rates and engaging disconnected students. Friedman is an experienced two-term incumbent; Bundick a first-time candidate. Easy choice, though Bundick is very well-spoken for a first-time candidate.

Seat G: Incumbent Crystal Kennedy, running unopposed.


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