From closing schools to finding more support to teachers, learn about the 9 school board candidates

Published: Mar. 21, 2018 at 8:41 PM AKDT
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Nine people have filed for three Anchorage School Board seats. Board members are elected in citywide, nonpartisan races.

The most crowded race is School Board Seat E. In that race, there are five candidates. Don Smith, a former member of the School Board, Tasha Hotch, Ron Stafford, Alisha Hilde and David Nees.

Hotch joked this was the Everyone Race when asked which seat she filed for.

Smith is a former school board member.

School Board Seat F is a race between Deena Mitchell, a founder of Great Alaska Schools, which advocates for education, and Phil Isley.

Candidates for School Board Seat G are Irene Weisman and Elisa Snelling.

Channel 2 spoke with all the candidates about why they are running for office, their priorities, and how they'd deal with a shrinking education budget. The below interviews have been edited for clarity and length.

Seat E

David Nees is a the son of a former Airman who grew up traveling around the world. He moved to Alaska in 1979 and started working for the Anchorage School District where he remained for 28 years.

Don Smith has been an outspoken conservative who's served in office, including on the Anchorage School Board, for several years. He's also been in the state legislature and has several children and grandchildren.

Ron Stafford moved to Alaska in 2013 after being in the aviation industry for most of his life. He's retired now. He says there is a lack of discipline in the school system which impacts education.

Alisha Hilde is an attorney and mother of three. She used to be a middle school band teacher. She says she grew up in a low income family and says it's her responsibility to pay it forward after receiving a great education from teachers who inspired her.

Tasha Hotch has two classes left before she receives her Master's Degree this May. She says she grew up in a small village in Southeast Alaska, where the school was the heart of the community. She says she was surprised when she moved to Anchorage that that wasn't the case here. She also has a 13-year-old son.

Question: Why are you the better choice?

David Nees: "The other people running in this seat do not have as many years of teaching. There's one that did a few years of teaching, but I did 28 years in junior high. I have been very active. I've been to most of the school board meetings. I'm a well-known commodity and think if you are voting for me, you're voting to change the policies that have been in place in the ASD for the last 30 years."

Don Smith: "Well I bring experience and if people have followed me and my political career I'm not afraid to bring things up, even knowing I'm not going to win, at least put the idea out and make people have to talk about it. There's so many people in politics that lift their fingers and try to figure out which way the wind's blowing before they open their mouths and I've probably stepped on myself a few times by not doing that, but you gotta tell it like it is. And I've never been afraid to express myself and views."

Question: How would you deal with a shrinking budget?

Ron Stafford: "I think there's easy solutions if you look at the total picture. Consolidating the schools down... and closing the ones that are under performing is what we need to do to help cut down on expenses."

Alisha Hilde: "I care about what happens in our district. I know if our students aren't getting a great education what their future might hold. I want them to have every opportunity to succeed. The budget is what drives things right. That's how we allocate our resources that determines whether our students are going to have the resources to learn. What I would like to see in our district is a focus on what's happening at the individual school level."

Question: What are your priorities?

Tasha Hotch: "My number one priority is going to be to engage the community. When I looked at what the role of the school board is, one: is to manage the budget, two: it's to manage the superintendent. So you don't have a lot of staff, but their role is to be the public voice for public education and that's the piece I see that's missing."

Seat F

Deena Mitchell is a founder of Great Alaska Schools, which advocates for education. She has a Master's in economics and an MBA in finance. She says she is the child of immigrant parents who came to the United States to pursue their own educations. She also has children in the school district.

Phil Isley has lived in Alaska since 1964 and was in the Alaska National Guard for 22 years. His children grew up in the Anchorage School District. He says he has a strong background in operations and training.

Question: Why are you running for office?

Deena Mitchell: "I passionately care about public education. Public schools serve such an important function in many, many, many ways. For some of our kids, they truly are a life waver and they are a place where they can find hope and people who believe in them and tap into their potential, and I would like to really support that the best way I can."

Question: How would you deal with some of the tough issues the district is facing, especially with smaller budgets?

Phil Isley: "Lets look at our school board budget. $750 million, that's about $16,000 per kid, per child. If you look at our school systems that are not in the school district, like Christian ones, the private ones, there's somewhere around six- to eight-thousand dollars a student and they produce a better product. I think there's room for cuts and I don't think we should be cutting teachers."

Seat G

Irene Weisman graduated from the Anchorage School District in 2015 and is now a stay-at-home mom. She says the school board needs viewpoints from younger people. She would like to focus on more opportunities for pre-school programs as well as more students enrolling in workforce education.

Elisa Snelling is the only incumbent running for office. She's also an accountant with three children enrolled in schools in Anchorage.

Question: What are your priorities?

Irene Weisman: "Number one is encouraging teachers. When I was in high school, at least one of my teachers saved my life. The fact that that teacher was there and cared about me as a person, not just, 'Oh, it's somebody in my classroom,' was something that was really important to me in my life. I mean that was just amazing. So teachers have a huge impact on our lives."

Question: Why are you running?

Elisa Snelling: "Years ago when I ran, I ran because I wanted to bring more accountability and transparency to the school board and the entire process. I wanted to bring a conservative approach to the budget. And, my children had attended a charter school for some time before we transitioned into the neighborhood schools, so I wanted to bring more alternative and charter school programs to the neighborhood schools."

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect video attached showing only a portion of a single interview with a candidate. KTUU apologizes for the error.