Juneau School Board candidate Mike Ford says his 20 years of experience as an education lawyer for the Alaska Legislature would be an invaluable asset to the Juneau School District.
"I got to see a lot of the big issues and I got to create a number of the elements of the education system that we deal with today. Formula for funding education, charter schools, exit exams, those are all things I worked on," he said.
Ford, 55, graduated from Chugiak High School before attending Washington State University. From there he attended law school at Drake University in Iowa. Ford has been a Juneau resident for 33 years and a member of the Alaska Bar Association for 25 years.
Ford said he has professional and personal reasons for running for public office.
"I have a professional credential that I'm proud of and I think it would serve well on the board," he said. "Personally, I'm involved. I have a daughter at Harborview in the fourth grade, so I have a stake in the outcome."
Ford is chairman of the Harborview Elementary School Site Council, a member of the school district budget advisory group, and the task force on choice programs.
Ford said the budget is the No. 1 issue he feels the district faces.
"We've got serious funding issues on the horizon and I feel I'm particularly well-suited to that pursuit with my experience in the legislature," he said. "I understand how the funding formula works, which I'm not sure too many people do because it's kind of complicated."
Ford said it is important to increase school funding.
"That's something that benefits not only Juneau but the whole state," he said. "A lot of the problems we have stem from under-funding."
The dropout rate and overcrowded classes are examples of problems that persist because of under-funding, Ford said. He said the dropout issue is complicated and needs to be thoroughly addressed by the School Board.
"That's a tough problem - there's no one solution to it," he said. "But if you look at the size of the freshman class versus the size of the senior class you can see the attrition. ... There are some things the School Board can do to make it better for those kids who do want to continue their education."
Ford said he believes the new high school will help alleviate some of the problems that cause the high dropout rate. He said he wants to work on the School Board to help facilitate meetings with the community and to work with people who want to be involved with the decision-making process of the new Mendenhall Valley high school.
"Of course, what so often happens, people only become aware of the issues after the decisions are made and then they get upset about it," Ford said.
Ford said racism is also a difficult issue in the school district that needs to be adequately addressed. He said the School Board should work to "build bridges and foster relationships" with different ethnic groups to make everybody feel welcome in the schools.
If elected, Ford said some of the short-term goals he would work toward would be getting new textbooks and new teacher contracts. He said the teachers' contracts are up this year and he would like to see a three-year agreement be settled upon to ensure quality teachers stay in the district. Ford said he would also like to see an expansion of the art program in the district.
"A lot of the education questions are things that I have dealt with," he said. "I definitely have things to learn if I were elected, but I feel like I'm starting from a pretty good spot. It's not going to be a huge curve with me."
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