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ASD school board seeks to tackle budget, COVID-19 plans and more in regular meeting

Colored pencils await use in an ASD classroom.
Colored pencils await use in an ASD classroom.
Published: Nov. 17, 2020 at 5:41 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage School Board meeting on Monday evening included both discussions and decisions on several hot-button topics, ranging from building improvements to barring reversals on school opening plans.

“One thing that is crystal clear and that I want our community to know: We’re in different places and internal, external, stakeholders, COVID is the real enemy here, not each other," said Dr. Deena Bishop, ASD Superintendent, ahead of Monday’s meeting. "Finding a way to serve our children the best way we can, our educators believe the best way they can is in school, and assisting educators to get back in school is really key.”

Ahead of consideration of a non-action item from school board member Alisha Hilde recommending that the district may not cancel reopening plans once decided upon for the remainder of the school year — which remained at the bottom of the meeting agenda — were several discussion topics focused on the district’s COVID-19 response and how students are faring, as well as half a dozen items related to upgrades in school buildings. Her item, and the district’s response to the pandemic, were immediately at the forefront upon public testimony opening up.

“I am a student at the district’s best high school, in the top of my class, and this year I’ve learned next to nothing,” said Sarah Price, who attends Eagle River High School. "If this is what the district is offering its top students, where does that leave everyone else?

“I am afraid someone I do not know and will never know is going through all the same, alone,” she continued. "Reopening our schools may not solve every problem, but through cost-benefit analysis by pediatricians and our superintendent, it is clear it will do far more good.”

Nicole Kimball, an ASD Parent, said remote learning is working for her family.

“I think ASD clearly - like most everybody - would want kids back in school,” she said, "but I also recognize this is a pandemic. And a move back to in-person school is not logical and not consistent with all the medical guidance provided.”

Along with public testifiers on both sides of the fence, others said they simply want a choice as to whether or not they can send their kids to classrooms.

“Since March of this year, ASD student, parents and teachers have borne the brunt of the upheaval caused by this pandemic," said Terrence Dalton, another ASD Parent. "This has been done without consideration to equity across our community. Not all students want or need to return to the classroom, but for those who do [...] each day is an agony that this board can remedy but chooses not to.”

Among the action items were a six-year capital improvement plan, the transfer of more than $10 million for charter school enrollment and various instructional and support items, roof replacement for Government Hill Elementary School, upgrades for West High School, and a fire alarm update in the Service High School Gym.

Also on the agenda were a task force update and a list of surplus items recommended for sale.

At the end of the meeting, Hilde’s item, Memorandum No. 062, was up for discussion among board members.

“Some [schools] are closing now because of case counts as well, but other schools not in the public sector were able to open,” Bishop said. "The push-back to not have school didn’t start Nov. 1. It started Aug. 15, when we announced it.

“We also chose to close ourselves, specifically in October and November when we had to push it back,” she said, and with the memo, "it isn’t just going to be Deena, it’s going to be the board, elected officials, who say, ‘This is important. Education for young people is important,' just as they have in other cities.”

Board Member Andy Holleman said that while the board can control the district, it cannot control the city.

“Yeah, it is important. We want to get schools open. We want businesses to be open. We want life to get as normal as possible,” he said. "And the way to do that is to get the case rate, the level of hospitalization, all the things that come with high transmission rate right now, to get that down.

“We took the action that we’ve taken to keep kids safe, to put their health first, which we kind of have to,” he added. “There are folks in the city that are unconcerned about it. We’ve done what we can to try and convince them.”

Board Member Starr Marsett said the only way the school board is going to be able to get schools fully reopened is with the help of the Assembly. She can’t support the way the memorandum is written currently, she said, but with a few amendments, she could.

“I don’t see any mandates on private schools, which means, if you have the capability to enroll in a private school, your child will get an education as a traditional education," she said, advocating for the board proposing a plan that is “equitable for every child to get an education.”

“If that means enforcing mandates, however that looks, if that means all schools because it isn’t safe, then all schools are closed because it isn’t safe,” she said. “I feel like we are fighting so hard for the education of our students. There’s more we can do together than we can do separately. We need to get together and come up with a plan and figure out how we’re going to put education first.”

As a non-action item, the memorandum would, per usual, become an action item at an upcoming meeting.

ASD School Board meetings usually take place on Tuesdays, though this one was moved due to an Assembly meeting taking place at the same time tomorrow. The next regular school board meeting is scheduled for Dec. 1, with another taking place on Dec. 15.

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