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School board candidates field questions at forum

Posted: September 13, 2012 - 11:06pm  |  Updated: September 14, 2012 - 11:18am
Juneau School District Board of Education candidates Phyllis Carlson, left, Michelle Johnston, Will Muldoon, Destiny Sargeant and Andi Story, right, introduce themselves at a forum hosted by the Juneau-Douglas High School on Thursday.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Juneau School District Board of Education candidates Phyllis Carlson, left, Michelle Johnston, Will Muldoon, Destiny Sargeant and Andi Story, right, introduce themselves at a forum hosted by the Juneau-Douglas High School on Thursday.

The five candidates for the Juneau School District Board of Education met Thursday evening at the Juneau-Douglas High School library for a candidates’ forum hosted by the JDHS Student Council and the Juneau Education Association.

Before an audience of about 50 people, candidates Phyllis Carlson, Michelle Johnston, Will Muldoon, Destiny Sargeant and Andrea “Andi” Story took questions from JDHS student body President Sam Kurland.

Sargeant, who served on the board from 2007 to 2010, said she is an “open book” who will be honest in communicating with fellow board members and people in the community.

“I would dare say if someone asks me a question, you are going to get an answer from me,” Sargeant said.

The youngest candidate, Muldoon, ran for school board in 2003 while attending Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School and is now a small business owner. He said he is “civically minded.”

“It’s kind of tough to be young and get involved with that at a young age,” Muldoon remarked.

Story and Carlson, the two incumbents running for reelection, both talked about their experience on the board as a qualification.

Carlson works as the Parents as Teachers program coordinator with the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.

“I’ve worked for 20-plus years in the field of education,” said Carlson. “I’m running for the school board because I really believe in education, and I believe that right now is a crisis time.”

Story is the school board’s vice president, and she repeatedly referred back to her nine years of experience on the board during the forum.

“I’m running for reelection because I believe deeply in the work we are doing in our public schools,” Story said. She added, “I am concerned our schools are facing an uncertain future without a stable funding plan.”

Johnston touted her experience on the Academic Policy Committee for the Ketchikan Charter School, where she was a parent prior to moving to Juneau in 2010.

“I have experience with this working on the APC with the charter school in Ketchikan,” said Johnston, discussing the JSD’s budget woes. “We had to cut tremendously, and that’s what we did. We brought in the teachers to the committee and said, ‘Where do you think we should cut?’”

Johnston was responding to a question from Kurland about how the candidates would prioritize if faced with flat funding for the fiscal year 2014 budget.

Story answered the question, “If we get flat funding for next year, it means cuts, because our fixed costs are going up. So you’re asking me what I would cut for next year.”

Story identified her top priority for funding as “student achievement.”

Carlson emphasized communication with parents and teachers, as well as with legislators to try to secure more funding for the school district.

“We need to be talking to each other about this, and to our supervisors and to the powers-that-be that have the purse-strings,” said Carlson.

Sargeant said she wanted to protect programs like Challenge Day and Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID.

“I think it’s really important to preserve the best of what we have,” Sargeant said.

Muldoon said flat funding would mean “crisis mode again.”

“As far as cuts, I mean, it’s going to have to be a realistic discussion this year,” Muldoon added.

Of the candidates, while all said they hoped to avert a raise in the pupil-to-teacher ratio for a third consecutive year, only Johnston vowed not to raise it.

“I know that means there has to be cuts somewhere else, but I am hard-line not to increase it, no matter what,” said Johnston, to scattered applause from a few members of the audience.

The candidates also differed on the question of returning to an open campus for ninth-grade through 11th-grade at Juneau’s high schools.

“I graduated in early 2003 when it was a full open campus, and I think it was fine for us,” Muldoon said. He suggested the policy should be, if not changed, then reexamined.

Johnston said she had a closed campus when she was a student, but her children had an open campus in Ketchikan.

“I’m very much in favor of an open campus,” said Johnston. “It’s too much on staff for enforcement. … By the time you become a teenager, it’s time to start making some of those decisions for yourself.”

But Carlson and Sargeant were more cautious, arguing that the decision to move to a closed campus was thought out and had local support.

“At the time, it made sense,” said Sargeant. “I’m willing to change my mind if it doesn’t make sense anymore.”

Similarly, Carlson said she wanted to examine “pros and cons” before deciding.

Story said she would not favor any change in the policy.

“This was something that parents really wanted to have in the schools, was a closed campus,” Story said. “Our police also wanted to have a closed campus. … I think I would leave it as it is.”

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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