Fairbanks school board president apologizes after criticizing lawmakers’ veto-override votes

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Fairbanks North Star Borough School Board President Brandy Harty gives her report on March 19, 2024. (File/KUAC)

The president of the Fairbanks North Star Borough School Board is apologizing for comments she made about legislators who voted against overriding Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s veto of a bill that would have increased education spending.

The override motion, which went before the Legislature on March 18, ultimately failed by a single vote.

RELATED: Alaska Legislature fails to override Dunleavy’s education veto

During a school board meeting the day after the override failed, members were dealing with deep cuts to the district budget, including the closing of a high school to save money. Board President Brandy Harty began her remarks by thanking the community.

“Man, did you show up for this budget season. We’ve had over eight hours of testimony in public meetings. We’ve had two separate community forums that were extremely well attended,” she said. “We’ve had rallies outside both of them. We’ve had hundreds of emails. We have had hundreds of submissions to the Balancing Act tool. It is so clear that our community cares about our schools.”

On Feb. 26, lawmakers had passed Senate Bill 140, an education bill that raised the state’s base student allocation paid to schools for each child they teach by $640, and also added money for transportation and kindergartners through third graders with reading needs. The measure would have brought more than $8 million more to the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District.

The bill passed the Legislature on an overwhelming 56-3 vote. But Dunleavy vetoed it late on March 14, hours before it would have become law without his signature.

In her March 19 report to the school board, Harty called out Interior legislators after the veto-override vote, starting with praise for those who voted in favor.

“In our Interior delegation, Representative (Ashley) Carrick, Representative (Maxine) Dibert, Senator (Click) Bishop, Senator (Scott) Kawasaki, and Representative (Will) Stapp,” Harty said. “And that last name is significant. It’s someone who was willing to buck the status quo and stand up for our kids because it was the right thing to do, even with enormous pressure to do otherwise. To Will Stapp, if you’re listening, thank you.”

Stapp, who represents East Fairbanks and West North Pole, had written a column in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner encouraging his colleagues to override the veto.

Harty also criticized lawmakers who initially voted for the bill, but flipped when it came to overriding the veto.

“To the other representatives, Representative (Frank) Tomaszewski, Senator (Robert) Myers, Representative (Mike) Cronk — and I slightly give Representative (Mike) Prax a pass because he didn’t vote for it to begin with, so at least you stood by your vote — I am so utterly disappointed,” Harty said. “Fairbanks deserved better. You are part of our community, and we were clear what we needed, and you let us all down. And I’ve heard rumors — and mind you, they’re rumors, so newspapers in the audience, I’m fully aware, and don’t quote me on it — that you might have sold us down the river for a $70,000 campaign donation. I hope it was worth it.”

That last part may have come from Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage, who made the allegation in his newsletter.

“In pressuring Republicans to flip-flop and oppose a bill they previously supported, Dunleavy threatened to campaign and spend $70,000 per race against any Republicans who voted to override the veto,” Fields wrote.

RELATED: Anchorage Democrat alleges governor threatened Republicans before veto vote, prompting denials

Now Harty is walking back her remarks, after the legislators she criticized wrote a letter to the school board, saying Harty’s “passing on a rumor …reflects poorly on the leadership” of the district. In their letter, they asked Harty to step down from being president of the board.

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A letter from Interior lawmakers criticizing Harty’s comments and demanding her departure from the school board. (From Alaska Legislature)

On Wednesday, Harty sent Interior Alaska legislators a letter of her own to apologize.

“I am human, and I absolutely make mistakes, but I come by them honestly,” Harty said in an interview. “And when I make them, I own them. This letter represents me owning up to those mistakes. And I hope that my community can accept that apology, and the best I can hope is for their forgiveness and grace.”

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A letter from Harty apologizing for her comments. (From FNSB School Board)

The school board met in executive session Thursday night to talk about board member conduct. Special meetings can be called by the board president, or by a majority of the members.

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