Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Anchorage Assembly Rejects AO 2012-121, A Proposal To Reorganize The School Board

For the first time, I watched the live videostream of the Anchorage Assembly meeting, and it works well with very little buffering in Firefox (there was more frequent buffering in Chrome). And on December 18th, 2012, the Assembly rejected AO 2012-121, an ordinance that would have place on the April 2nd ballot a proposal to reorganize the Anchorage School Board from the current seven citywide at-large seats into 11 geographical seats mirroring Assembly districts. Specific provisions were outlined in this previous post.

Public Testimony: Came from several sources. Most noteworthy was that of a school board member, Natasha Von Hoff, who spoke out against the proposal. Von Hoff was not speaking officially for the school board, but said other board members were aware that she was to testify this evening. Von Hoff suggested that adding four additional school board members would cost taxpayers an extra $200,000 per year. She also stated that even though all current school board members are "at large", they divvy up the city amongst themselves and each member focuses upon a different section of the city each year. Von Hoff's focus this year has been on Eagle River. David Nees, a former school board candidate, testified in favor of the proposal; Nees is also circulating petitions that could put propositions on Assembly and School Board make-up on the April election ballot.

Also testifying was a representative of the Chugiak Community Council, who complained that Chugiak-Eagle River has no de facto representation on the board at this time, since none of the current board members live in that community. However, for nine years, that community had two of the seven school board members, John Steiner and Crystal Kennedy, and before that, Debbie Ossiander for nine years, so in the long run, it would seem to even out. Additionally, Tom McGrath, a local political activist, also testified, and he seemed to favor the proposal, suggesting that school board races can be more expensive because they're citywide.

Assembly Comments: Several Assembly Members weighed in on their prospective votes. Most noteworthy was comment by Harriet Drummond, who hinted that Anchorage School Superintendent Jim Browder might be opposed to the proposal because he was concerned about having to deal with 11 school board members rather than seven. This implies that Browder may be finding out that he's not as powerful a superintendent as he thought he might be, and he's privately uncomfortable with it. Drummond also said that in her experience, school board races were less expensive than Assembly races.

Assembly Member Jennifer Johnson then introduced an amendment to the ordinance, changing the applicable sections to read "2016" instead of "2014". This was in response to concern by some Assembly Members that this ordinance, along with the companion assembly restructuring ordinance, was being fast-tracked and that there hadn't been enough time to engage the public more fully. The amendment passed 10-1, with only Dick Traini voting No. Traini opposed the ordinance because he fears it would inspire more parochialism within Anchorage.

Then came the final vote on the ordinance, as amended; it was rejected by a 7-4 vote.

-- Voting No: Harriet Drummond, Dick Traini, Ernie Hall, Debbie Ossiander, Paul Honeman, Patrick Flynn, Elvi Gray-Jackson
-- Voting Yes: Chris Birch, Jennifer Johnston, Bill Starr, Adam Trombley

The Anchorage Daily News has now published a story on this vote, and also reports that the companion ordinance to reorganize the Assembly into 11 single-member districts also failed. But the Assembly voted 8-3 in favor of a city ballot proposition proposed by Patrick Flynn for a smaller change that would let voters decide whether to write into the city charter that Assembly terms be only for three years.

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