Friday, March 09, 2012

Anchorage School Board Candidates Make Their Cases At The 2012 HALO Candidate Forum

Update April 1st. Have now embedded a video of the candidates' appearances on KAKM Channel 7's "Running".

Because Proposition 1 is the school bond and is discussed in this post, I now include a description of it:

-- PROPOSITION 1, School Bonds: Reference AO 2011-119(S): This was already approved on December 6th, 2011. Provides $59,077,000 to the Anchorage School District to pay the costs of educational capital improvements, career and technical education upgrades, design projects and districtwide building life extension projects; the link posted above also includes a list of the projects. The bond is eligible for 70 percent state debt reimbursement.

----- With 70 percent state debt reimbursement: It will increase property taxes by $6.51 per $100,000 assessed property value.

----- Without 70 percent state debt reimbursement: It will increase property taxes by $14.67 per $100,000 assessed property value.

The Anchorage Municipal Election takes place on April 3rd, 2012, and as usual, the Anchorage school board races are generating very little media attention, although the Anchorage School Board controls a budget now officially set at $736.8 million for the 2012-13 school year. On Thursday March 1st, 2012, five of the six school board candidates appeared at the HALO (Home And Land Owners) debate to pitch their ideas and take questions from the public.

Appearing from right to left in the video embedded below are Natasha Von Imhof and Starr Marsett, running for Seat G; Tam Agosti-Gisler, running for Seat F; and David Nees and Kathleen Plunkett, running for Seat E. The other Seat F candidate, Richard Wanda, did not show:

Update April 1st: Here's an additional video of the candidates' appearances on KAKM Channel 7's Running:

Use these links to go directly to a specific candidate's segment: 3:00 David Nees, Seat E. 16:00 Kathleen Plunkett (incumbent), Seat E. 30:40 Tam Agosti-Gisler, Seat F. 45:15 Richard Wanda, Seat F. 58: 45 Natasha Von Imhof, Seat G. 1:12:30 Starr Marsett, Seat G.

More information, candidate website links, and recommendations follow after the jump. Click the candidate's highlighted name to go to the candidate's official website:

Seat E. Kathleen Plunkett is the incumbent. The conservative Anchorage Daily Planet recommends a vote for Plunkett because of her interest in vocational education and budgeting.

-- Kathleen Plunkett: Seeking a second term. She says she's concentrated on children, schools, infrastructure and public safety during her many years of community service. Among her strongest interests are vocational education, municipal revenue-sharing, continuation of the state's debt reimbursement program to make school bonds more palatable, and the continuation and enhancement of value-based budgeting. Supports Proposition 1.

-- David Nees: This is his third try for elective office. In 2010, he finished fourth in a field of four candidates for Seat A. In 2011, running for Seat D, he jumped a notch, finishing third in a field of four candidates. Nees is clearly a fiscal conservative. He opines that we have been focused on a build-and-spend cycle that has left ASD with a nearly a billion dollar debt to pay off over the next twenty years, which is why he does not support Proposition 1. He notes that at the same time we were building and remodeling our schools, we have added programs that were never proven to increase performance, citing Middle School Math and Everyday Math as examples of problematic programs undermining the more traditional "basic-facts" approach. He criticizes Kathleen Plunkett for cutting summer school instead of eliminating jobs from stimulus money. He notes that Plunkett has bagged all the union endorsements, to include the AEA, Alaska Labor Central Council and IBEW. At an Eagle River candidate forum, Nees was the only candidate who did not support publicly-funded pre-K programs, saying that early education is best left to families. You can also visit his Facebook page, available to Facebook members.

Update March 23rd: On Northern Right, David Nees recommends the Anchorage School District scrap the $3 million per year "cops on campus" program. He cites figures showing no statistical improvement in problem areas as a result of the school resource officers, as they are called. On the other hand, it is possible that without the cops on campus, the problem areas could be worse.

Recommendation: While Kathleen Plunkett has served well, the school board needs another fiscal conservative who will try to generate a bigger bang for the buck and who is less beholden to special interests. Let's roll the dice and give David Nees a three-year term to show what he can do.

Seat F. Incumbent Jeff Friedman completing his third term, must stand down due to term limits. The conservative Anchorage Daily Planet recommends a vote for Agosto-Gisler without comment.

-- Tam Agosti-Gisler: This is her first try for elective office. Extensive international orientation, having taught English in Asia and Africa. She obtained a degree in International Relations from Stanford University and a Masters of Arts in Teaching from the School for International Training. Also served as an Executive Director for the Anchorage School Business Partnership, Inc; she believes that business partnerships nurture successful students and generate productive graduates. She wants an external audit of the ASD budget to obtain objective data on whether expenditures are in line with board goals and educational outcomes as well as national norms. She also wants to develop a mentorship program for 9-12th grades would allow all interested students to explore a variety of career interests. Interestingly, she wants to extend the high school day to include additional periods which will allow students to catch up and give them more flexibility in their schedules as well as more learning options; this would compensate for the loss of summer school. Supports Proposition 1. According to the Alaska Star, Agosti-Gisler has received union endorsements, although they did not specify which unions. You can also visit her Facebook page.

-- Richard Wanda: Richard Wanda is a perennial candidate who runs frequently and unsuccessfully for elective office. Unfortunately, all that's displayed on his website is a 1994 letter from then-House Speaker Thomas Foley; he offers no reason why he wants to serve or any particular goals should he be elected. However, Wanda has now added some insight in his response to the KTUU questionnaire. He's running because he considers the School Board to be the elementary level of public services. He considers it better to be non-partisan rather than be openly affiliated with a particular party. He prefers targeted one-time spending rather than incremental increases to the base student allocation because of unstable oil prices. He's also quite sold on the Everyday Math program. Wanda doesn't campaign aggressively, although he usually shows up on KAKM Channel 7's "Running" program. Supports Proposition 1.

Recommendation: Even with Richard Wanda's last-minute input, it's still Tam Agosti-Gisler by default.

Seat G. Incumbent Crystal Kennedy completing her third term, must stand down due to term limits. The conservative Anchorage Daily Planet recommends a vote for Von Imhof because of her interest in fiscal matters and controlling costs

-- Natasha Von Imhof: A first-time candidate for elective office, Von Imhof's two highest priorities are to re-evaluate our fiscal priorities and review several of the programs that are not directly related to a supporting a comprehensive curriculum, and to institute a comprehensive curriculum. By "comprehensive curriculum", she means incorporate and teach 21st century skills and technology into teaching, teach problem-based learning, project-based learning, integrated education (how to use what you know), and propose a longer school year. The latter is particularly attractive because the three-month summer break is a superannuated anachronism long past its expiration date. Supports Proposition 1, but is concerned that the costs of ASD capital projects are higher than market. According to the Alaska Star, Von Imhof has received no union endorsements. You can also visit her Facebook page.

Update March 31st: Natasha Von Imhof has published a well-written essay entitled "City has real opportunity to improve local schools", in which she sets forth five prospective changes to capitalize effectively on ASD's adoption of the Common Core Standards.

-- Starr Marsett: This is her second try for a school board seat; she ran unsuccessfully for Seat B in 2009, finishing ninth in a field of 13 candidates. Marsett wants to review the district’s improvement plan for student academic achievement, and will look for ways to reduce the achievement gap between the subgroups within our schools. She shows sensitivity to public reluctance to pass school bonds by expressing the intent to find ways to extend the life of our existing schools rather than constantly begging for money. During her three-year stint as a substitute teacher, she found out that teachers need more support within the classrooms so that they can focus more upon teaching. Supports Proposition 1; helped formulate it on the ASD Capital Investment Advisory Committee. On the downside, Marsett would like to see an advisory board of teachers to the school board, which would make the school board more unwieldy and cumbersome. According to the Alaska Star, Marsett has received union endorsements, although they did not specify which unions. You can also visit her Facebook page.

Recommendation: While both candidates would serve well as school board members, I find that Natasha Von Imhof has a bit more imagination, and her idea of a comprehensive curriculum makes her a better choice.

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