Mat-Su Borough School Board implements lottery system for public testimony

On September 6th, the board voted unanimously to implement a lottery system if over 20 people sign up to speak during public testimony.
Published: Sep. 20, 2023 at 7:05 PM AKDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

PALMER, Alaska (KTUU) - New changes for public testimony during Mat-Su Borough School District Board meetings started Wednesday night.

On Sept. 6, the board voted unanimously to implement a lottery system if over 20 people sign up to speak during public testimony.

“We added in the lottery solely to make it fair if more than 20 people sign up,” Kathy McCollum shared during the board meeting on Sept. 6. “It was not in any way used to limit who can speak.”

The new policy has sparked concern among community members. District parent Kenni Psneak Linden said she was surprised to hear about the policy change — especially since it occurred during the same meeting where school board members voted to change the role of student advisory representative.

“It seems to be part of this kind of overall strategy of the school board — and potentially the administration — to limit public comment,” Linden said. “When were not able to speak at public meetings and to share perspectives that the school board and the school district does not agree with. Then it limits the ability for public process to actually take place,” Linden said.

The Association of Alaska School Boards said that it supports local control. Lon Garrison, executive director of the association, said school boards under Title 29 must provide the public a chance to testify. However, it’s up to the board how it chooses to do that.

“It’s certainly in the authority of the board to decide how that works,” Garrison said.

Garrison added that public commentary is a critical component to the work school boards do.

“We always advocate for boards to try to figure out the best way to get the public involved and to get a sense of what the public is feeling regarding issues,” Garrison said.

Linden believes it’s important for public testimony to include a wide array of voices.

“That is a prime opportunity for the public and the students to come to the board and to share their concerns,” Linden said.

Under the new rules, those not chosen in the lottery can still submit their written comments for the record.

At Wednesday night’s meeting, no one voiced opinions for or against the new lottery system put in place. The next school district board meeting will take place on Oct. 4.