School boards around the country have been in the spotlight throughout the pandemic, amid heated conversations about COVID-19 and mitigation protocols in schools.
That’s been true in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. And it’s partly what’s inspired some candidates to run for school board this election cycle.
There are three seats up for grabs on the school board this year, including two on the central peninsula. Municipal elections in the borough are Oct. 5.
District 2 — Kenai
Matthew Morse is running unopposed to represent Kenai for the board’s District 2 seat.
Morse has been on the board since 2018. He said when he first ran, his biggest concern was where and how the district was spending its money, amid the state's financial woes.
“In the event that funding becomes more of an issue than it has been and we have to make cuts,” he said. “We want data to inform those decisions, right?”
Morse went to Kenai Central High School and has three grown children. He works at his family business, a recruiting and staffing firm in Soldotna.
In the last year, he’s been outspoken about wanting the district to loosen COVID-19 mitigation protocols like masking.
“I don’t think people are happy with the [mitigation] plan that we have again this year,” he said. “I think they started out being happy with it, when we said we weren’t going to require masks and things like that. But obviously that hasn’t held true.”
While there’s no district-wide mask mandate, several schools in the district have enacted temporary mask mandates amid high community case rates and high rates of absenteeism in schools.
District 5 — Sterling/Funny River
Benjamin Miller, of Soldotna, works at the Marathon Refinery in Kenai. He grew up in Homer and now has two kids in the district.
“I’m just a concerned father in the area,” he said. “I’m a blue collar worker, I work here, I live here. And I'm not a politician at all. I have no experience in politics. And I think we need more of that. I think we’ve had too much politics lately on the school board and not enough running the schools.”
Miller said he was inspired to run after hearing districtwide conversations about COVID-19 this past year.
Even though jurisdiction about COVID-19 mitigation protocols is up to school administration, he said he believes he can have influence as a board member.
“I’m against all the excessive testing we’re doing, the mask mandates, the potential vaccine mandates that we’re looking at,” Miller said.
There’s no plan for a vaccine mandate in the district. But Miller said he’s wary of mandates at a federal level impacting schools.
Miller also said he thinks the district is well-funded and that he's against raising taxes.
Also running for the District 5 seat is Jennifer Waller, of Sterling.
Waller has three kids, including two who are currently in the district. She grew up in Sterling and said she has a wide network of friends and family there.
“So I feel like I could bring a collaborative voice from the community to the table,” she said.
Waller is founder and director of Freedom House, a faith-based recovery home in Soldotna.
She said she struggled with drug addiction herself, starting in high school. She said she'd like to focus on mental and behavioral health on the school board.
“And so of course looking at staffing and seeing if we can bring on more counselors if needed, and bring maybe even a curriculum to the table where we’re teaching kids, ‘Hey, it’s OK not to be OK, and here’s what to do if you’re not OK,’” Waller said.
Waller said she’s studying up on budget matters. And like Miller, she said she thinks decisions about COVID-19 protocols should be up to individual families.
You can listen to KBBI’s interviews with the board candidates for District 8, representing the southern Kenai Peninsula, here.