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Budget takes priority at school board candidate forum

By Alexis Fernandez 7:40 AM March 19, 2014

Anchorage School Board candidates appear at Alaska Children's Trust forum

ANCHORAGE – Five candidates, with five different reasons why they would be the best person to serve on the Anchorage School Board, shared their vision for the future of Anchorage’s youth at a candidate forum Tuesday evening.

School Board Seat C was the first race featured.

Liz Ross, 34, and Dean Williams, 55, think they can do a better job at handling the budget and bringing in more programs than incumbent Pat Higgins, 61, who’s seeking a third term.

“I think we need to advance and kind of change the way we think about education and be more innovative and I think we’ll have better outcomes for our students,” Ross said.

“I think what’s going on now in terms of the budget could have been avoided several years ago,” Williams said.

Higgins said during his six years on the school board, he’s made significant changes.

“We’ve have a lot of changes during that time, we’ve gone from 63 percent graduation rate … to about 79.6 I believe, we’ve had dropouts reduce 30 percent,” he said.

The next race highlighted at Tuesday’s forum was for School Board Seat D.

Kameron Perez-Verdia, 42, was appointed to the seat in April after former board member Gretchen Guess resigned.

“I’m someone who’s passionate about education, it’s what I do for a living, it’s what I talk about all the time,” he said. “I’ve worked for 20 years to improve education in Alaska.”

His challenger, 74-year-old Don Smith, is a former Anchorage School Board member who lost last year to former state Sen. Bettye Davis.

He said he’s focused on fixing the budget.

“We’re in trouble financially, and we don’t have this coming school year — the budget is going to be $23 million less than it was the current year, “ he said.

Although their visions are different, they all agree the focus should be on helping students succeed.

Tuesday’s forum was hosted by the Alaska Children’s Trust. The Anchorage municipal election is scheduled for April 1.

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