At the end of 2019, the Federal Emergency Management Agency notified the Anchorage School Board that the board’s current apprentice policy could result in any FEMA project being ineligible for reimbursement. The policy states that a company hired to complete Anchorage School District projects valued at more than $100,000 must have 15% of the work be done by apprentices.

FEMA says it’s this restricting of competition that could jeopardize reimbursement for repairs to earthquake-damaged schools.

"They think it's an unfair practice and it discriminates, and that's what they're looking at," school board president Starr Marsett said. "We've gotten some new information, some federal laws that possibly say that — as a board we’ll be sharing tonight — that not necessarily that is the case."

To start 2020, the school board is taking a closer look at the issue.

One proposed option is to make all projects related to earthquake work exempt from the board policy. 

"If we have other projects out there that are not earthquake-related and aren't eligible for FEMA reimbursement or funds then we will continue to use the policy as it is," Marsett said.

That’s a proposal that doesn’t appeal to those in favor of the apprenticeship policy.

AFL-CIO’s director of operations Joelle Hall says the apprenticeship utilization rules do not conflict with federal procurement rules. 

“If every other state in the country can figure out how to do it and other jurisdictions can figure out, surely there is a way to do it," Hall said. "So a blanket exemption seems like a big response to what appears might be like just a little bit of extra paperwork."

There is also disagreement among board members as to whether the apprentice policy is worth it. School board vice president Alisha Hilde said it’s great to help those in the apprentice program but questioned whether it advances the goals of the board and is within budget.

"It's incredible, but do I want to take two counselor positions to pay for it? No, I really don't,” Hilde said. “And the amount of time we keep coming back to this because there was a kink here or a kink there — it continues to baffle me that we just don’t say we tried this, it didn't work out as we hoped and maybe down the road we can try it a different way."

Other board members argue to give it more time. Deena Mitchell says she’s read federal guidelines and doesn’t see anything that prohibits using apprentices.

"I think the only discussion here is whether it violates FEMA policy and whether we should rescind it or waive it for the FEMA projects, and I'm not convinced," she said.

The board will continue to collect information before voting on what to do with the policy at the next school board meeting. 

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