A new policy adopted by the Anchorage School Board is being sent back to committee after hearing concerns from small business owners.

The board adopted a new apprenticeship policy Feb. 4 that encourages the use of apprentices on capital maintenance and construction projects. The school board stated it shall require at least 15% of the total hours worked on the project shall be performed by apprentices enrolled in a federally registered or State of Alaska-approved apprenticeship program. The school board lowered the project cost threshold at which the requirement kicks in from $2.5 million to $100,000.

According to board documents, the intent of the policy was to create more apprenticeship opportunities. However, some say it would hamper smaller contractors when it comes to bidding for projects. 
"The ASD policy would affect those small business owners that are the one-man shops basically that don't have apprentices, so it lessens the competitive bidding process," said Amy Nibert, president and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors of Alaska.

Zack Fields, director of business development for Laborers' Local 341, said it's not as complicated as it seems.

"Most Alaska contractors are very familiar with apprenticeship. Many of them practice apprenticeship and reporting it is actually very simple," Fields said. "You do it on certified payroll, which is a form contractors already submit."  

Fields says the school board is making the right decision by adopting the policy.

Lawyer Ray Royce, who specialized in construction litigation, said during a school board work session Monday he'd never seen anything like it. 

"This is really cutting edge what you're doing here, to making a mandatory apprenticeship program," Royce said. "I looked at it today just to see where other states do mandatory programs. I couldn't find any."

The Anchorage School District says the policy would require more resources, time and further complicated legal support needed to enforce it. David Whiting, senior director of ASD's purchasing and warehouse department, said the biggest hurdle is finding a list of federally registered apprentice programs. Then come other challenges such as auditing, public procurement and litigation of construction projects.

Whiting said he and the administration wanted to be as transparent as possible with the school board as to what this policy means. Some said it could cost the district more money in the long run.

At the end of the work session, the board decided to send the revision back to the governance committee for recommendation. In the meantime, the school district will adhere to its former policy. 

The next meeting is scheduled for Monday, June 10.

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