Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Anchorage 2013 School Board Races Set; Both Races Feature Sharp Contrast Between Big-Government And Limited-Goverment Candidates

Update April 3rd: Municipal election results discussed in this post; Bettye Davis and Eric Croft elected.

On Friday February 8th, 2013, filing closed for Assembly and School Board candidates in the Anchorage 2013 Municipal Election to be held on April 2nd. Twelve candidates will compete for six different assembly seats, while five candidates will compete for two school board seats. This post will focus on the school board candidates; the assembly candidates are discussed in a separate post, and the ballot propositions in a different post. The Anchorage Daily News has already published one preliminary story.

Unlike the assembly races, in which differences between some of the candidates are a bit more nuanced, there's nothing ambiguous about the school board races. School board candidates are either champions of limited government or big government; very little in between.

Additional References:

-- Municipality of Anchorage Voter Information Page
-- Municipality of Anchorage Candidate Page
-- APOC Municipal Candidate Page (lists campaign contributions)

Critical Media Stories:

-- On March 26th, the Anchorage Daily News asked school board candidates how they would fill ASD's $25 million revenue gap.

-- On March 28th, the Anchorage Daily News asked school board candidates what three things they would change about the Anchorage School District.

-- "Vote 2013: Bettye Davis vs Don Smith", Anchorage Press, March 28th.

Major Issues: Candidates can and should be closely questioned on these important issues:

-- Contract negotiations between the Anchorage Education Association (AEA) and the Anchorage School District (ASD) are in progress as of this post. According to the Anchorage Daily News, the existing contract expires on June 30th. ASD's first proposal offers limited raises during the first year of a three-year-contract, and calls for a freeze on salaries after that. ASD's proposal is hindered by the possibility that they will get no increase in state funding, which could mean a $25 million shortfall to maintain current staffing and services. In contrast, AEA, which represents 3,500 teachers, counselors, librarians and school nurses, proposes a one-year contract, and during that year, the union wants the district to raise base pay and credit teachers with two years of experience -- and raise their pay commensurately. The sides are far apart at this moment, but are optimistic; AEA considers a strike the last option, and have not engaged in industrial action since the 1990s. But Jim Browder is now the superintendent, and while he's competent, he has yet to earn the same optimal level of regard and respect as Carol Comeau.

-- Petitions to reorganize the school board: These proposals may not be presented to voters in the April 2nd election, but are currently petition campaigns to get them on the ballot in a future election. Pushed primarily by Seat B candidate David Nees, proposals 2012-17 and 2012-19 both call for the reorganization of the present seven-member at-large school board into an 11-member board representing geographical districts. The difference: 2012-17 calls for districts not necessarily mirroring the assembly districts to be set by an apportionment board, while 2012-19 calls for the school board districts to geographically mirror the assembly districts. Having two separate petition campaigns is redundant, though; only one should end up on the ballot.

-- School Bond: Now finalized, the bond calls for $54,825,000 to be spent on five different projects. It qualifies for 70 percent state debt reimbursement granted by the state legislature on $10,650,000 of the issuance and 60 percent state debt reimbursement on the remaining $44,175,000. With debt reimbursement, it will add $4.85 in taxes per $100,000 of assessed real and personal property value in Anchorage. From the Anchorage School District Bond Page, here's a breakdown of the five projects:

-- Girdwood K-8 School Construction: $23,000,000
-- Aurora Elementary School Gym Addition: $5,750,000
-- Bartlett High School Cafeteria/Kitchen Renovation: $4,700,000
-- Capital Renewal Planning & Design Projects: $10,725,000
-- Districtwide Building Life Extension Projects: $10,650,000

-- School Vouchers: Two bills before the Alaska State Legislature, HJR1 and SJR9, propose to place a constitutional amendment for vouchers on a future statewide ballot. School board candidates are already staking out positions on this issue.

The School Board members are chosen by the entire city rather than voting districts. They are designated "A" and "B". School board race and candidate profiles appear after the jump:

Seat A Overview: Don Smith is the incumbent and is running for re-election; he's being challenged by former School Board member and State Senator Bettye Davis. Smith is a noteworthy fiscal conservative who thinks the primary focus of the Anchorage School District should be upon education and not expand into social welfare; he wants to deliver the biggest bang for the buck. In contrast, Davis tends to be a big-government classical liberal who believes ASD should expand into social welfare, up to a point. When Smith first ran for election in 2010, he won primarily because the liberal vote was split between two different liberal candidates. Since he only faces one opponent this time, there's the danger that Bettye Davis could defeat him, although she was trashed rather authoritatively by Anna Fairclough in the Senate District M race. On the other hand, Smith was trashed almost as authoritatively by Berta Gardner in the Senate District H race; Gardner has a reputation for being a moderate Democrat. Alaska Teamsters Local 959 has awarded its endorsement to Bettye Davis in this race.

-- Don Smith: Smith is known as the father of the tax cap. He thinks ASD administration has created a huge bureaucracy that has failed the students, parents, teachers and taxpayers. During his tenure, he has sought to bring leadership and critical thinking back to the school board and curtail the practice of rubber-stamping school district proposals. He pushes constantly to reduce the bureaucracy in our school district and redeploy teachers back into the classrooms. Smith even had the courage to question one of the sacred cows of the education industry -- the school meals racket. In August 2012, when ASD approved a contract for boxed meals at 12 after-school programs for at-risk kids, Smith spoke out against it, expressing his concern that ASD was moving into a program that expands the entitlement mentality in our society. Smith noted that even though the feds reimburse the district, the feds are also financed by tax dollars, and this expenditure can't help but add to the national debt. The school meal racket no longer merely provides free and reduced-price meals for genuinely destitute kids, but also for middle-class kids whose family incomes exceed $50,000 per year. That's not chump change, people. To fill the revenue gap, Smith would essentially lobby the state and the municipality for more funds, and ask for an expanded role for the school board in crafting the district's budget.

-- Bettye Davis: According to her holdover Senate campaign mailer, Davis served on the Anchorage School Board from 1982-1989 and from 1998-1999. She also served in the Alaska State House from 1990-1996 and in the State Senate from 2000-2012, so she understands the legislative process for education from bottle to throttle. Her special interest ratings indicate persistent support from environmental extremists and only tepid support from the NRA; she earned horrendous grades from Alaska business lobbies. VoteSmart also documents some of her voting record as a legislator. Although Davis tends to be a big-government advocate who wants to throw money at problems, she's come up with some useful proposals, including repeatedly pushing legislation for forward-funding of public education. Forward funding means if a new state education budget isn't approved by a certain date, the old allocation remains in effect. Forward funding would eliminate the need for ASD to temporarily lay off employees until the new allocations are approved, then hiring them back. To fill the revenue gap, Davis would work to get adequate funds at the state and municipal levels, and look for additional areas to cut funding. She also wants to abolish the exit exam. Davis was part of the Anchorage Black Caucus and served as the President, National Caucus of Black School Board Members; she played the race card in a recent debate when she said that an all-white school board should be a matter of concern in a city as diverse as Anchorage.

Seat B Overview: Jeanne Mackie is the incumbent and is not running for re-election. Vying to replace her are Eric Croft, David Nees, and Stephanie Cornwell-George. Croft is a former state legislator and so he understands education from that end, but as a Democrat, he'll have the liberal constituency to himself. In contrast, the conservative constituency could be split between David Nees and Stephanie Cornwell-George. Nees is enthusiastic and energetic, but has a reputation for being a bit impulsive. Cornwell-George comes across as being a bit better organized. But the possibility exists that Croft could end up winning this race almost by default, the same way conservative Don Smith beat two liberal opponents in 2010. Update March 15th: Stephanie Cornwell-George has now minimized her campaign and has publicly endorsed Eric Croft, although she's still an applicant for the vacant board position created by the resignation of Gretchen Guess. Alaska Teamsters Local 959 has awarded its endorsement to Eric Croft in this race.

-- Eric Croft: Eric Croft served in the Alaska State House from 1996-2006. He was swamped by Tony Knowles in the Democratic gubernatorial primary in 2006, and lost the Anchorage mayoral race to Dan Sullivan in a runoff in April 2009. Despite being a Democrat, he's not necessarily a spendthrift; during his 2009 mayoral campaign, he proposed consolidating some city and school district operations to save money. Croft has also gotten letter grades of "A" from the NRA, and while he was in the state legislature, sponsored the law that allows Alaskans to carry concealed weapons without a permit. In this campaign, Croft pledges to fight for public schools with a 2-part strategy; staunch commitment to budget discipline and aggressive advocacy for State and Federal funding. To fill the revenue gap, Croft wants to execute a line-by-line examination of all district expenditures with an eye towards making cuts in district middle management, and lobby for additional state funding to be directed towards instruction.

-- David Nees: A two-time unsuccessful school board candidate in the past, Nees is one of the most energetic and innovative candidates in this year's races; he's pushing initiatives to reorganize both the Assembly and the School Board. Nees believes that the present school board has been a rubber stamp for every pie-in-the-sky program requested. Although he acknowledges that ASD is still focused on having enough classrooms and teachers, they've lost sight of successful programs and policies. To fill the revenue gap, Nees wants to cut costs on all non-instructional spending, end the practice of renting space for charter school by returning them to unused space in ASD, and outsource all transportation to save personnel costs, maintenance and replacement of equipment costs, and retirement costs. He also wants to re-visit ASD's participation in the Teachers Health Trust managed by NEA Alaska, recommending a switch to a larger pool like Alaska Cares to reduce expenditures. Nees has also been endorsed by Mayor Dan Sullivan.

But unlike many candidates, David Nees puts forth specific proposals. Nees wants more fundamentals in the classroom and to bring teachers back into the textbook selection process. To promote physical fitness, he wants to get rid of all sports fees. Nees supports both charter and optional schools and advocates moving them into ASD-owned buildings, a move which he estimates would save $20 million per year. To ensure greater political independence, Nees pledges to refuse any union endorsements. In the final analysis, Nees wants to get away from politics and do what it takes as a community to ensure all of our children have the chance at a world class education. Read all of his priorities HERE.

-- Stephanie Cornwell-George: Stephanie Cornwell-George was a special education teacher with the Anchorage School District. Cornwell-George has a strong interest in districtwide pre-school. She advocates a pre-K program that instills social skills, imagination and problem solving through discovery and play-based learning. In her discussions with parents, she finds that complaints have been about policy, procedures, and red tape getting in the way rather than poor teachers. She wants to reform our collaborative practices, getting all of those in early learning, mental health, social services all at the same table to collaborate for kids, families and teachers. Cornwell-George now reveals that she does not support amending the Alaska State Constitution in regards to school choice. She says we have very successful charter schools in Anchorage and across the state, and we need to first find out why many of them are successful. To fill the revenu gap, Cornwell-George recommends collaborative practices; entities struggling to meet needs with limited budgets must work together to meet the needs of our community.

The fact that Stephanie Cornwell-George lives in Eagle River has attracted some extra attention because some Eagle River residents think they are inadequately represented on the school board; currently, the board has no Eagle River residents. However, they overlook the fact that John Steiner and Crystal Kennedy both represented Eagle River on the seven-member board for nine years, and before that, Debbie Ossiander for nine years. Perhaps the issue is that they want continuous representation on the board in the form of a dedicated seat.


  1. Thanks for sharing this information. Please note, I am no longer a current employee of the Anchorage School District. -Stephanie Cornwell-George

  2. Thanks for the update; I have changed "is" to "was" in my post. I've also since found your new campaign website and linked to it.