School Board Candidate Wants to Outsource Orchestra Program? **UPDATE**
By Linda Kellen Biegel
Observant earwigs noticed a little story in last Sunday’s Alaska Ear talking about a rather big boo boo perpetrated by the Municipal Clerk’s Office. That office works with the Anchorage Assembly and directly for the Chair, Debbie Ossiander. (She’s one of the Mayor’s “yes” men/women on the Assembly…the group I’ve nicknamed “Team Sully.”)
WHAT’S IN A NAME … The muni clerk’s office is apparently confused about which of Starr Marsett’s names is her first name. Looks like it guessed, and got it wrong — at least on the ballot Ear got: Marsett is a candidate for School Board. Candidates are normally listed last name first, then a comma and first name. All the other school board candidates are listed this way. But the ballot lists her as “Starr, Marsett.”
This ballot was marked “Ballot B,” so maybe there’s a Ballot A where it’s done correctly?
~School Board Candidate Starr Marsett
Sadly, I’ve been told by earwigs-in-the-know that the Clerk’s Office doesn’t have a Ballot A, a Ballot C or ANY BALLOT where Ms. Starr Marsett’s name will be listed with her correct first name first and last name last. This is for an election that is happening this Tuesday! As early voting started days ago, folks have already been using the confusing ballots. Many of her supporters are concerned that folks will vote against Starr because the name reversal might equate her with a very different Starr who is not such a big fan of public education, Assemblyman Bill Starr.
All of this could easily be written off as an “unforced error” as they call it in baseball. However, the fact that her opponent, Natasha Von Imhof, is clearly a Republican (and Mayoral) favorite gives me pause.
When I first heard of Ms. Von Imhof’s candidacy, I had never heard of her nor had I ever seen her before. So I checked her website, where I saw her describe her MBA, her real estate business with her husband, her banking experience, and that she is/was a “Grants Administrator” for the Atwood Foundation…the things she repeats over and over during debates. What stuck out the most was that she has absolutely no education experience. No volunteering in the schools, no PTA positions, no education committees, nothing. Compare that with Starr Marsett’s resume and you’ll find a veritable cornucopia of education experience.
So, I found it interesting that Ms. Von Imhof was invited to the Mayor’s Education Summit.
Cast your memory back to November of 2011 when the Mayor invited 100 special (mostly conservative) friends to his Corporately-Sponsored Education Summit. If you scan the list of the participants (the “V’s” are at the bottom) it will be easy to find Ms. Von Imhof’s name among the chosen. You can look all day for Ms. Marsett’s name and you won’t see it there.
So, I was quite interested to hear Natasha Von Imhof speak when I went to the Home And Land Owners (HALO) Debate a few weeks ago.
As I walked in the door and was checking in, the Anchorage School Board Candidates were just introducing themselves. I heard Ms. Von Imhof describing how her background was in business, how she had no education experience so she “hadn’t drank the Kool Aid.”
I was stunned…are you kidding me? THAT’S supposed to be a selling point?
Yes, if one is a Tea Partier…
It was later, during one of the rounds of questions, that I had another shock. When Ms. Von Imhof was asked something about outsourcing school district functions, I expected her to say something like snow removal, or food service, or building maintenance.
Nope…she went for THE MUSIC DEPARTMENT!
Since I only picked up part of the comment on video, I can explain that besides the regular band and orchestra programs in the various grades at ASD, there are also honor band and orchestra programs. The one for the Middle Schools is called Junior Youth Symphony and gives kids who are normally separated into the band or the orchestra an opportunity to play together, as real adult orchestras already do. Ms. Von Imhof was put-out by the fact that her child had to make a choice between the ASD run program and another, private program called Alaska Youth Symphony which just expanded from just High School participants to Middle School as well.
“…So the Anchorage Youth Symphony approached the Junior Youth Symphony and said “Hey, you are doing a great job, so why don’t you let us take over this particular program, that’s what we do.” And the Junior Youth Symphony which is run by the School District said, “No.” It wouldn’t save a lot of money, but the fact of the matter is, why duplicate it?”
Ahhhh…so the fact that there would be little savings wasn’t the important issue, it was to make sure to take away one of the choices parents have regarding their kid’s musical education so that Ms. Von Imhof wouldn’t have to make such a difficult decision?
I felt like the whole thing didn’t make much sense.
However, what was very clear is that she really has absolutely no idea what has been going on regarding the budget and the Anchorage School Board. When one of the School Board members simply asked for an assessment of the costs of the 6th grade music program in February, parents and musicians in Anchorage went nuts, causing over 100 folks to come and testify at the Budget meeting as well as hundreds more emails pouring into the Board members, begging them to leave music alone.
I thought perhaps Ms. Von Imhof’s answer to the question was knee-jerk…the first thing she thought of as the result of nerves.
Then I heard the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce Candidate Debate when she was asked about outsourcing school functions, specifically to non-profits. I realized I was very wrong. (starts at 46:46):
Well, interestingly, my daughter belongs to the Anchorage Junior Youth Symphony that’s for 7th and 8th graders for symphonic opportunities. Simultaneously, the Anchorage Youth Symphony was historically for 9th, 10th 11th and 12th. In the last 18 months, they’ve included 7th and 8th. The Junior Youth Symphony is run by the School District. The Anchorage Youth Symphony is a private organization with a Board of Directors that’s a non-profit and well-funded. So right now, my daughter has two options: she can do the Junior Youth Symphony or the Anchorage Youth Symphony. The Anchorage Youth Symphony approached the School District and said, “You’re doing a great job but why don’t you let us do this because this is what we do, this is our sole mission,” and the School District said, “No.” When asked later…when I pressed that…they said merely that it was somewhat of a “turf war.” It’s not a lot of money but it is time and focus and resources. That is something that can be outsourced easily to the community.
While Ms. Von Imhof does not make it clear who she “pressed” for more information or where she got the “turf war” comment, I’m fairly sure it wasn’t the ASD Music Department. However, the fact that the President of the Board of Directors of the Alaska Youth Symphony made a $250 contribution to her campaign provides a possible answer.
KAKM Public Television posted their video of “Running 2012: School Board on YouTube. She has a shorter version of THE EXACT SAME OUTSOURCING SCENARIO. Seriously? (Starts at 1:01:00)
Regarding the issues around both programs, Ms. Von Imhof is a little loose with the facts:
— Yes, Alaska Youth Symphony is well funded for a really good reason; it costs each child $375.00 to participate (per an email response from the AYS Executive Director). There are scholarships available, but it was not clear if they were full, partial or how many students they would cover. **UPDATE** Email received today from the AYS Executive Director: “Because we are a non-profit, we are dependent on tuition from our students.”
— Junior Youth Symphony is absolutely free for every child who participates. Since a number of us have kids who do music AND sports ($100 fee per sport), free is the only way most of our kids would be able to participate. (My kid had to stay at school last week when a number of the kids on her academic team got to go skiing at Alyeska because we just couldn’t afford the $142. It turns out the majority of the kids couldn’t afford it either.)
— The Junior Youth Symphony program has one or two paid staff, the rest are volunteers. The cost is clearly minimal.
— The Junior Youth Symphony holds their rehearsals and performances in ASD facilities. Most rehearsals are held at one of the Middle Schools, making it more convenient for the parents.
According to my phone call to the ASD Music Department today, the above were the reasons I was given that the Anchorage Youth Symphony’s offer was rejected. That doesn’t sound like a turf war, but concern by the School District that all Middle School kids who want to participate won’t be restricted by an inability to pay and that getting them there will be most convenient for the parents. Perhaps that money is not a big deal to the Von Imhofs, but an additional $375 is a big deal to most people.
Finally, the HALO debate had each candidate summarize why we should vote for them for School Board. Ms. Von Imhof speaks first and Starr Marsett follows her, showing a stark comparison between Ms Von Imhof promising to visit schools and departments AFTER she’s elected, while Ms. Marsett has been participating for years. Also, at times during Starr Marsett’s speech, Ms. Von Imhof’s body language is bizarre and occasionally distracting. She appears to be extremely irate:
Von Imhof’s combative comment: “I will be creating my own opinions and not take what the School District has given me,” basically contradicts the “fair and balanced” portrait she was trying to craft just before.
Plus, her claim that: “I take all information and options to heart and you will not catch me consistently with either the left or the right,” is also contradicted by this view at the front of the Republican Party headquarters:
~Natasha Von Imhof’s sign for the non-partisan School Board race in the window of Republican Party headquarters.
Interestingly, I’m being reminded of another “Natasha”…
Nobody knows what is going to happen as a result of the name snafu on the ballot. Will there be lawsuits no matter which candidate wins? It’s quite possible.
I hope that the Anchorage folks reading this get out and vote and I hope you take all of this to heart when you do. Kicking a couple of dollars Starr’s direction wouldn’t hurt either.