School board incumbent seeks second term vs. young challenger
Three Anchorage School Board seats are up for election on this year's regular election of the Municipality of Anchorage. The seven-member Anchorage School Board is the governing body for the Anchorage School District. Elected each year, for overlapping terms, each member serves for a three-year term.
This year, seats, E, F and G are up for election. Elisa Snelling currently occupies Seat G and is the lone incumbent on this year's ballot. Her challenger is 20-year-old Irene Weisman. Both shared their views on why they chose to run for school board and how they would keep our schools safe, manage the ever challenging budget and share their thoughts of proposition one, the bathroom bill.
1. Why are you running for a seat on the Anchorage School Board?
Elisa Snelling - "I didn't come in with my own personal agenda. It really is to make education across the district better but there is always more to do. Everybody says it's for the kids but it is how you get there. The startling thing about all this, with our $800 million budget, if I get re-elected and come May, when Tam Agosti-Gisler and Kathleen Plunkett step off the board, I'll be the longest serving board member at three years. That's a scary outlook. Every board member that comes on, no matter how experienced they think they are, it's uphill learning and I'm still learning. Tam is still learning six years later, there are always new things going on with laws changing at the state and federal level and in improving curriculum. One of the toughest things for new people to learn is the difference between governance and management. What is the board's real role and what is not our role."
Irene Weisman - "I'm a new voice, I have a new vision, we need a new direction and that will make a better future for our students. I only graduated in 2015, so, I am still in touch with the students and how they are feeling now rather than 10 to 20 years ago. I know and understand what students are doing in their regular lives, not just in school. What teachers are doing and how they are behaving with their students now. I have this new perspective that we really need to think about. We don't need the same perspective of the same people who are on the school board now. We want some new people and some people who understand what life is like now for my generation. I was raised my educators, my grandmother is a former teacher from Pioneer Peak Elementary in the Mat-Su district. Schools give people power and are the basis of our economy."
2. The annual budget is a challenge due to declining state revenues. What areas would you target first when making reductions to meet the bottom line?
Elisa Snelling - "I am the only candidate that has not gone down to Juneau to ask for more money. One, I know that they don't have it right now. They may later but they don't right now. Things I will take to our legislators about are ways to retool in a way that allows the district to be more flexible to make our own decisions. on a local level and untie our hands in certain ways. It's not a popular thing but teacher tenure. If we do have a big reduction in our budget, let's say 10 percent, how do you address teachers? If you start cutting X amount of teachers from the bottom of a spreadsheet, you may end up with a PE teacher teaching a math class they are not qualified to teach but that's all we've got left because of budget cuts. We have to have the flexibility to say what are our students needs and how do we meet them with the teachers we have and tenure can get in the way of that sometimes. Bus drivers get paid twice the minimum wage and go up from there. So, as minimum wage has gone up, so has the base pay for our bus drivers. Our funding formula is complicated, if we can re-tool that, that can be a big change. I'm a numbers person so I am super comfortable."
Irene Weisman - "It is a very difficult thing to try to figure out. The first thing I would do is lobby in Juneau for more money so that we don't have to look at these reductions. I've seen studies that show our schools don't have the funding that they need to survive and be good schools. That's one of the reasons our economy is lower and one of the reasons why teachers are leaving. I'm really not sure what I would cut. When you make a cut to fund someone else you're taking away from someone. I would look to Juneau to get the funds we actually need."
3. When it comes to school safety, what are your views on arming teachers in the classroom and how do we keep our students safe?
Elisa Snelling - "It's not just about guns. There are kids that take their own lives, kids that bring knives to school that do harm and damage. It's not just about guns or just arming teachers. So are so many other threats to our students and school safety. It's always been a district priority and mine as a mom to make sure our children are safe. I am not a supporter of putting guns in teachers hands. We can do things from a perimeter aspect, we can do things with cameras and as a community. It's about paying attention to each other, putting down the technology and paying attention to one another. There's a big human component to it."
Irene Weisman - "No, I would not arm or teachers with guns for one major reason. Teachers are begging us not to. They already have enough on their plates, students and tests to take care of. Work that doesn't involve teaching to take care of, they don't need the responsibility of a weapon in their classroom. As far as safety, I feel every school should implement the buzzer system. You come to the from door, one entrance, hit a buzzer and you are let in. There is a camera showing who you are and what you have. You have to tell the person why you are there. Do you really think someone with a gun will be let in? We have this system in our elementary schools, why is it not in all middle and high schools?"
4. What is your stance on Proposition One, or the bathroom bill?
Elisa Snelling - "I'm still working on it."
Irene Weisman - "I will vote no on prop one. It just creates more problems by alienating more people."
This year's election is a vote by mail process. Once you receive your ballot in the mail, fill it out and return it or have it postmarked by April 3, 2018. Ballots can also be dropped off at designated locations
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