ANCHORAGE – After emotional public testimony at Tuesday night’s assembly meeting, the Anchorage Assembly voted against an ordinance that would have asked voters to expand the number of school board members from 7 to 11 on April’s municipal ballot.
Assemblyman Chris Birch, who represents South Anchorage, was slightly surprised by the proposed ordinance’s failure. He said change is always a challenge. And even though he brought it in front of the assembly, it’s not his district he is worried about.
“To put it nicely, I have never see any school board members at my community council meetings ever,” said Amy Demboski, president of the Chugiak Eagle River Community Council, during public testimony. “I take that back. I did see somebody once when they were asking somebody for a bond.”
Demboski said she is worried about her community and communities like hers (Fairview, Downtown and Mountain View), which don’t have representatives from their parts of town on the Anchorage School Board.
According to residents in those areas, their needs aren’t being met. But Debbie Ossiander, who represents Eagle River, Chugiak and JBER on the Anchorage Assembly, voted no. She said increasing the members from 7 to 11 wouldn’t change anything.
“Chugiak is growing and it’s getting bigger, and they need someone to look out for interests,” said Janice Haines, who lives in the Eagle River area.
Currently all school board members represent the city, not a district. In turn, all school board members could live in one neighborhood. “That’s representing everybody with accountability to nobody,” said Birch. “That is illegal in some states.”
Demboski and Birch want the school board to be run like the Anchorage Assembly, with representatives from each district. Demboski said the needs are different in every community and that the school board is broken.
“Our schools are not doing well,” said Demboski. “We spend $200 million more than we did 10 years ago. We have fewer students, worse results and for what? It just doesn’t make sense.”
And although it failed at Tuesday’s assembly meeting, Demboski said there is still hope, as long as a citizens’ initiative gets about 75,000 signatures in order to get the proposed change on the ballot.
“I think its kind of like taxation without representation,” said teacher Sarah Smith. “I think there should be somebody who lives in the area and has direct knowledge of the issues that a local school might have.”
Birch is confident the citizens’ initiative will pass, and said voters should expect to see it on the April ballot.