2 Alaska school board student reps move to challenge Mat-Su School Board action

Wet, yellow signs on a table
Yellow signs are left on a table outside of the Mat-Su Borough School District administrative offices on Sept. 6, 2023. (Tim Rockey/Alaska Public Media)

Student representatives on school boards for the state’s two largest districts want better recognition, after the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District School Board weakened its student representative’s ability to participate in meetings.

The Mat-Su School Board’s adult members voted in September to significantly diminish student representative Ben Kolendo’s position. Now, Kolendo and Anchorage School District student representative Joshua Pak are bringing a resolution to the Alaska Association of Student Governments conference next week to ask for support for student representation on local school boards.

“I think that we still deserve a voice, especially when it comes to school boards,” Kolendo said.

Kolendo’s participation in school board discussions, beyond a brief report at the beginning of the meeting, was revoked by a 5-2 vote Sept. 6.

Kolendo and Pak hope that hundreds of students gathering for the conference will agree. Currently, 28 of 54 school districts in Alaska allow students to participate in school board meetings. So does the state Board of Education.

Pak is a junior at Polaris K-12 school in Anchorage and reached out to Kolendo before the September meeting.

A crowd of people wave yellow signs
Members of the audience wave yellow signs in support of student representative Ben Kolendo during a Mat-Su School Board meeting on Sept. 6, 2023. (Tim Rockey/Alaska Public Media)

“I hope that when we unanimously pass this resolution, we could show this, or we could present this, to the Mat-Su school board, present that all students or almost all student governments in Alaska collectively believe that your actions are disappointing or hypocritical, because the very voice that a school board should strive to protect and empower the students,” Pak said. “I think in order to make a well-informed and reasonable decision, you need to have someone who is actually experiencing the issues you’re talking about at hand, and a student, let alone a student representative, does that best.”

AASG holds two conferences a year for dozens of schools and hundreds of students to attend. Host schools present workshops and community service opportunities, as well as the debates and votes on resolutions. On Oct. 15, 260 students from 34 schools will descend on West Valley High School in Fairbanks for their fall conference.

“Our resolution just aims to make it so that they at least have a preferential vote and recommends a real legal vote,” Kolendo said. “We also want to ensure that they, you know, have all the rights that were taken away from me, which are attending public board meetings with the school board members, being recognized at the meetings, participating in questioning witnesses and discussing issues.”

If passed by the students at AASG, Kolendo and Pak will present the resolution to the Mat-Su School Board.

Tim Rockey is the producer of Alaska News Nightly and covers education for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at trockey@alaskapublic.org or 907-550-8487. Read more about Tim here

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