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Anchorage School Board meeting draws supporters, critics of big-ticket agenda items

Published: Nov. 17, 2021 at 2:33 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - As the Anchorage School District School Board considers millions of dollars in grant money distribution, capital improvements, bond inclusion and its own self-governance standards, dozens of members of the Anchorage community showed up to testify at Tuesday night’s meeting.

The gathering, which followed an executive session for the board earlier Tuesday evening, started with a focus on college life and career readiness, the program the district appears poised to improve.

“The pathways are designed around careers that allow you choices in career and college, and what they look like for what you want to accomplish in your life,” Superintendent Deena Bishop said.

Tuesday’s meeting is the first school board meeting since Bishop announced her retirement on Nov. 2. Bishop’s last day as Superintendent will be June 30, 2022.

Along with Bishop, the board, and many adults who testified, a large number of students spoke on the record at the meeting. Most talked of conditions at their schools and changes they’d like to see in the near future as they advocated for their inclusion on the April 2022 school bond proposal.

“We implore the school district to take notice of the neglect and failing infrastructure at Bartlett High School, and we invite the school board into Bartlett to see the facilities used firsthand by our staff and students,” said one high school student.

“Band, choir and orchestra practice in library,” added a young Inlet View Elementary student. “The bathroom lights don’t work, and if you use the sink too long, the pipes leak. We store our stuff in baskets in hallway.”

Inlet View is not currently included in the proposed bond package. A Lake Otis parent spoke of leaky roofs, an aging playground, poor plumbing and old life skills program infrastructure. Another parent said they simply wanted to see good design plans that are completed, instead of lower quality projects that she said sometimes don’t even get finished.

According to public board documents, the original bond proposition stood at $95.9 million to cover for the following: East Anchorage High School academic area safety improvements, roof replacement and improvement projects at Spring Hill, Chinook, Campbell, College Gate, Ursa Minor and Lake Otis, as well as any 1990-prototypical elementary schools, Chugiak High School and the district’s Facilities Support Center, the deferred requirements project including Kincaid Elementary improvements, boiler replacement at Birchwood Elementary, Lake Otis Elementary building life extension, security vestibule and other security improvements, and other planning and design projects.

Back and forth discussions over an amendment followed, with the board passing a motion to vote on a second option, at the cost of more than $98 million, which included Inlet View Elementary construction costs. A motion to send the bond back to staff to adjust the bond amount to at or below $102 million ahead of the Dec. 6 meeting was also up for consideration.

In the end, the board decided to go into recess and continue the meeting after a work session Wednesday.

Also drawing extensive public comment was the potential renewal of the Family Partnership Charter School charter for five years, to continue through the 2026-27 school year.

“The chartering process is so long, you have to start years in advance,” one parent said. “A five-year process is the last thing we need.”

While some pointed to prior issues at the school — such as questions over religious studies — another parents said that keeping kids in schools means having schools that engage them and providing courses that meet students’ specific needs, which charter schools like Family Partnership Charter can do.

While testimony was lengthy, it didn’t take long for the board to decide to table the proposal until Dec. 6.

Several memorandums were also on the agenda and passed by the board Tuesday. Memorandum No. 034 authorizes acceptance of more than $1.5 million from the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, specifically for federal secondary career technical education funds. Another, Memorandum No. 049, centers on seismic improvement for Klatt Elementary, allowing acceptance of a grant from the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for $95,000.

Memorandum No. 044 is focused on the adoption of the district’s functional governance board self-evaluation baseline, formally creating a renewed standard for that this year.

No motions were recorded on the six-year capital improvement plan, or the proposed acceptance of an American Rescue Plan Act grant from the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, totaling $112,451,632.

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