Mat-Su school board, superintendent get vote of ‘no confidence’ from district staff

Mat-Su school board, superintendent get vote of 'no confidence' from district staff
Published: Oct. 24, 2023 at 2:50 PM AKDT|Updated: Oct. 24, 2023 at 3:38 PM AKDT
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PALMER, Alaska (KTUU) - A wide disconnect has been revealed between educators and those in charge of Mat-Su area schools, with a vote of “no confidence” taken by over a thousand staff members.

The Mat-Su Education Association said in a Monday release that 93.1% of “certified staff” chose to vote against the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District and 91.3% against its superintendent, Randy Trani, for what it says are decisions made against the “needs and best interests of all students.”

The vote was taken between Oct. 16 and Oct. 20.

The vote comes as debates and disagreements on issues ranging from gender identity to political activism by educators and staff continue between the district and the school board, as well as a controversial board policy update that in part minimized the role of the student representative on the school board. The decision led to a later student protest that was investigated by the school district for potential “misuse of school resources,” although the investigation determined there was no improper use of resources for the protest.

MSEA President Vicki Hewitt said that over a thousand staff members voted last week — including both union and nonunion members — and said it stems from a “disconnect” between the two sides.

“The result of this vote reaffirms the frustration educators feel about decisions being made by the school board and Superintendent that are not in the best interest of students and are sometimes neither positive nor safe for some of our students,” Hewitt wrote in a press release. “There is a leadership disconnect in our school district and it’s time for a change.”

The 1,052 certified staff members who participated in the vote included teachers, librarians, nurses, counselors, and student support, according to Hewitt.

In an interview on Tuesday, Hewitt said she hopes the overwhelming number of staff who voted “no confidence” shows the community that Mat-Su educators are “very concerned.”

“This wasn’t a union issue, this was actually an issue for educators and community members. For over a year, I’ve been being asked to do this vote of no confidence,” Hewitt said.

Hewitt says every educator participated on their own time and that the voting was a secure process in which every educator had to sign for their own ballot. Hewitt emphasized the vote was not directed by the leadership of the union, but rather the union was the conduit by which the vote could take place.

“I think we all want something better for the students, something that will work for students,” Hewitt said.

Hewitt mentioned multiple concerns during an interview with Alaska’s News Source on Tuesday:

  • A new policy making it so counselors in Mat-Su schools can only give guidance on academic issues
  • Required Advanced Placement classes
  • Deleted language from a board policy stating libraries are safe spaces for students
  • The requirement of 25.5 credits for students to graduate, while the state only requires a minimum of 21 credits

She hopes the outcome of the vote will be an opportunity for some change on the board and with the superintendent, like working in conjunction with educators and being more involved with students.

The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District released the following statement on Friday:

“The MSBSD School Board and District Administration are aware that the Mat-Su Education Association (MSEA) Executive Board has conducted a vote in schools this week concerning the School Board and district leadership. Teachers’ unions play their part in public education to advocate for the teaching profession and we acknowledge their right to exercise their role. The Board also embraces their own role in the education process through establishing policies for the administration to implement.

“It was a surprise to learn that the MSEA executive board delivered ballots to schools this week. The administration has weekly meetings with union leadership. This long-standing practice has resulted in many concerns being solved informally through collegial conversations. Up to this point there had not been any discussion regarding a vote of no confidence. Additionally, two weeks ago, the MSEA President, and Superintendent Trani had an ad hoc meeting, at her request. This current vote did not come up at that time.

“Regardless of the outcome, the Board and administration will continue to strive for the high results we have started realizing. We are seeing progress toward the Board’s adopted goals; graduation rates are high, more students are enrolled in career & technical education courses, more students are enrolled in dual college credit, and more elementary and middle school students are meeting their iReady progress goals in both math and reading, just to name a few. This is due to the work of our MSBSD principals, teachers, and staff and we should all be proud of what we have accomplished!

“Union leadership has routinely stated that they want to be a bridge to the administration, and the administration has honored that by being available and providing requested information and support. The district has a number of ways for all stakeholders, including staff, to provide feedback and will be ensuring expanded opportunities for all voices to be heard. The Board has already encouraged the superintendent to ensure ‘that administrators and staff are aligned working together for the achievement of established priorities.’ District administration has already reached out to MSEA leadership exploring more ways to increase communication. We will communicate additional opportunities for stakeholder groups to stay connected and stay engaged soon.”

The “no confidence” vote comes at a significant time as it could affect the Mat-Su Borough elections slated for Nov. 7. In this election cycle, there are two Mat-Su school board members up for re-election.