Complete opposites vie for open School Board seat F
Three seats on the Anchorage School Board are open in this year's Municipal election. Incumbent Elisa Snelling is looking to retain her role for a second term on Seat G while board Clerk Kathleen Plunkett is stepping down in April after three terms on Seat E and School Board President Tam Agosti - Gisler is stepping down from seat F in order to move to Switzerland. Looking to fill the soon to be open seat by Agosti - Gisler are Phil Isley and Deena Mitchell who sat down with KTVA to explain why they are running, their thoughts on the school budget and improving school safety.
1. As the school district looks at doing more with less, what areas will you look to first when it comes to reductions?
Deena Mitchell - "That is the $64,000 question. I've been a member of Great Alaska Schools for the past four years and have been advocating for a solution to the state budget crisis. I think had we done that a few years ago we wouldn't be in this position right now. With the cuts, we have not seen them completely across the board. There have been more in administration than in the school buildings and the district has done everything they can to keep teachers from being cut. That means they've cut counselors that our students need, nurses, there are a lot of professionals who are no longer available for our students to use as resources. Every program we have has a constituency and serves a purpose and function. As far as what to cut, I don't have the answer for that right now but when I dig into the numbers more I will have answers."
Phil Isley - "I think that we have plenty of funding for our schools. The problem is what we do with that funding. The thought that we would lay off teachers before we lay off administrators is wrong. We're focused on funding and not on educating our children. We need to change that and look and see what is the best way we can educate our children, not, how can we get more money out of Juneau. Our students are dropping. We built our building to hold 50,000 students. Right now we have what, 46,800 and the numbers have been dropping over the last 10 years. But, our budget hasn't dropped, so, I'm pretty sure we can do a lot more with a lot less and we really haven't challenged them. I mean twice the school district came up a $20 million shortfall they found somewhere in the budget and didn't have to cut anything, it was just there. At the same time, they were telling us that they're going to have to lay off teachers if they don't get the $20 million."
2. When it comes to school safety, what are your thoughts on arming teachers in the classrooms? What ideas do you have when it comes to keeping our schools safe?
Denna Mitchell - "I think it is absolutely not the right thing to arm our teachers. The risk of them being used in the wrong way is far too high. I do not think they belong in our schools except maybe with a safety resource officer. The number one thing we can do to keep our students safe is to have one port of entry into the schools. People come into the school and are vetted by the staff as to why they are there. The ALICE training the district is doing, although unfortunate to have to do, is the gold standard right now in dealing with a shooting situation. Also, making sure our students feel connected and cared for. To watch out for loners and to let them know there are people who care about them."
Phil Isley - "I don't believe arming teachers is part of the long-term solution. They had armed people in Florida and it didn't do any good. I believe that is a Band-Aid approach and I wouldn't want to force teachers to be armed. I don't think I would object to teachers that are qualified to carry arms but if you look at probability and proximity, if teachers have guns in the classroom and something happens, it'll be blown out of proportion. If you look at the Florida shooting, the FBI was notified and didn't do anything, the school was notified and didn't do anything. Who knew the most about it? The kids that were involved knew. They complained to the teacher a little but what if we change the mindset of that? What if students engaged with the so-called loners, talked to them and became their friends. If we address the problem rather than taking Band-Aid approaches we'll be much better off and our schools safer.
3. Why are you running for the school board and what can you bring to the table?
Denna Mitchell - "I have been advocating in the public education arena for a long time. I have a good base of knowledge going in. I attended the Anchorage School District School Board Academy where we got an amazing overview of the different departments across the district. I know there is going to be a large learning curve but I'll be coming in as prepared as anyone possibly can. I am passionate about student education and making sure each student reaches their potential. I want to make sure that we are supporting students who maybe don't have support. Do that in other ways and more effectively. Every student who graduates to be a productive citizen is a person we potentially don't have to support on the other end. So, from a dollars and cents perspective, it makes sense."
Phil Isley - "I'd like to see our school board focus on education and I don't believe that they do. I believe they focus on budget. If nothing else, I'd be nice to have some adult supervision there. I'm trained in leadership and management, I look at things differently than most people. I take a very logical approach to things as part of my job is troubleshooting.
This year's Municipal vote will be of the mail-in variety. Look for your ballot in the mail and send it back or have it postmarked by April 3, 2018. If you don't want to mail it, you may drop it off at any of the designated drop-off sites. For more information, you can find all the information you need here.
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