A race for the school board in Sterling and Funny River is one of the most contested in the upcoming municipal election. Four people are vying for that one seat.
The incumbent, Mary Anderson, has been on the school board since 2003. He’s been on the Alaska Workforce Development Board and participated in the school district’s Blue-Ribbon Task Force on vocational education. He’s a product of voc-ed, himself. He’s quality assurance advisor, often working in the oil and gas industry.
If re-elected, Anderson has three priorities, including continuing to improve school safety. He’d also like to advocate for forward funding of education from the Legislature.
“We’re trying to establish a budget basically on guesswork, and then trying to secure a staff surrounding that. It’s a really terrible way to do business but it is the way that it’s set up. It’d like to get that changed by working with both our state and borough people,” Anderson said.
The district has been cutting its budget since fiscal year 2015, particularly as fixed costs bump up against a drop in enrollment and per-pupil funding.
“The district has been very creative in cutting costs and saving money, but the fact remains that we’ve got 42 schools, with several of those being in isolated areas. And that’s an expensive operation,” Anderson said.
If more funding becomes available, Anderson would like to see it go to counselors, nurses, libraries and other areas on the periphery of curriculum, but that still have a big impact on students.
He said his third priority is continuing to improve the graduation rate. And Anderson praises the district’s emphasis on individualized learning and would like to see that continue.
Nissa Fowler is one of Anderson’s challengers. She’s an accountant and would use those skills in budgeting.
“I would like to be there to ensure the efficient use of funds. The funds are what they are and how we use them is the power of the school board. And the overarching priority for me is that these kids matter, and remembering that these kids need to come to school fed, they need to be warm, they need to be rested,” Fowler said.
Fowler said she doesn’t see any areas of the budget that can stand more cuts, so hopes to find efficiencies if additional money-saving measures are necessary.
She’d like to see the district producing kids who are ready for life, whether that’s more education or employment.
“All the world does is progress and demand more, and we need to be there for these kids to let them loose on a world ready to go, ready to be helpful members of an economy or of a college community,” Fowler said.
Greg Madden is a chiropractic physician and a minister. He also taught public school and at the college level back in Texas. He’s concerned about the school district’s budget crunch.
“We’ve got to maintain a good core curriculum, keep things going where the kids are well-maintained for having every advantage they can get. Whatever we can bring in from the periphery as possibilities to offer new experiences or to maintain arts, music, all kinds of other things — those are all good,” Madden said.
Madden doesn’t expect to get more funding from the borough or Legislature and hopes efficiencies can be found if further budget cuts are necessary. Beyond that, Madden thinks the key to success is in students themselves.
“Part of motivation is to see, ‘Where do I fit in the world, what can I do and how can I make that happen?’ It’s not just a matter of, ’I’ve graduated so I’m done.’ This is just the first stepping stone in a great road of success, and seeing that is the big part of making things successful,” Madden said.
Karyn Griffin is the fourth candidate. She’s a stay-at-home mom. Griffin did not respond to attempts to contact her. Madden and Fowler made their comments during Wednesday’s Kenai Conversation program. Anderson was working out of state so we followed up with him by phone. You can find the complete audio of those interviews at our website, kdll.org.
The municipal election is Oct. 2.