Two people are vying for one seat on the Petersburg School Board in the municipal election, October 6. Incumbent Katie Holmlund is hoping for a three-year term while Craig Anderson wants to replace her. In a two-part series, KFSK is looking at the two candidates to find out what their priorities are.
Craig Anderson has been in Petersburg for nine years, working at the U.S. Forest Service office. He has a wife, who is a school bus driver, and two boys, one in middle school and one in high school.
Anderson has been an Assistant Coach for the Devil’s Thumb Shooters’ club, he’s coached boys in the weight room for three years, and he’s an involved parent of the wrestling teams.
He says he’s running for school board because he disagrees with the way the district has responded to COVID-19. He says students have not been the priority throughout the process.
“I hear a lot of ‘I’ and ‘me’s’ coming from adults in the community and it just kind of really broke my heart, honestly,” Anderson said, “because I had hoped that when it comes to dealing with our kids that we would put personal politics aside.”
Anderson says he understands in the springtime when everyone hunkered down waiting to see how bad the virus would get. But now, he says, the school district is lagging behind the opening process. He says adults have asked the kids to give up their entire lives.
“Through the course of the summer I’ve watched as these restrictions have been eased gradually and sometimes rather abruptly for adults and out of state folks and things like that,” Anderson said. “In the meantime, nearly every child that I’m affiliated with through coaching or family friends or whatever, has been here in town by themselves, no friends, no movies, no activities, no public gym, no swimming pool, no nothing the entire time.”
He says through the COVID shutdown he’s realized just how important the activities are at the schools, which he calls “the heartbeat of the community”.
“I didn’t really realize that until it was taken away,” he said. “It’s always been in front of me but I didn’t really realize how important it is, especially to the kids, and I just couldn’t really stomach not saying anything.”
Anderson sent emails to the school board and eventually a letter to the borough about his concerns. He does not believe COVID-19 was as dangerous as the school district and others made it out to be. He says it has been blown out of proportion by adults and the children have been ignored.
“They’ve had no voice in the process, nobody’s really explained it to them other than it’s dangerous or they could die and they could infect somebody else and they could die and that’s a pretty a pretty heavy burden for some kids to bear,” Anderson said. “And they didn’t ask for this and they’ve been stuck with it ever since March.”
He says he wants to see a different process at the school district for risk assessment. He says through his job at the Forest Service, he’s done risk assessment for nearly 18 years and he thinks the schools COVID plan was not well thought out and doesn’t fit Petersburg’s needs.
“It was, in my opinion, vastly incomplete,” he said. “It did not measure what the risk factors were, it did not measure where the vectors of exposure would be coming from, which is a travel by airplane or by boat off the island or out of Alaska. Instead, these kids are stuck with pieces and parts of a plan, which looked to me like it was copied from other communities or other communities’ plans.”
Anderson says right now at the school district there is an attitude of “we can’t do this because”. He’d like to see the approach change to “we can do this if”. He says the district has been overreaching its authority.
“As a parent, I’m not looking for the school to tell me what’s safe for my kids, that’s my job,” Anderson said. “I’m their guardian, legally, morally, ethically–all that stuff–I’m their guardian, the school is not. The school is a building. It has to be safe enough for kids to attend school, I get that, but when it comes to the final go/no-go call it’s my job as a parent to make that decision.”
Anderson is critical of the district’s communications, something that he says was a problem before COVID-19. He says he and other parents he knows have submitted comments over the years to the school board, administration or staff that weren’t followed up.
He says with COVID he’s seen a lot of hypocrisy when adults—including school staff—have been going to bars or restaurants in groups without masks and other precautions. He says he wants every decision the school board makes to be kids-centered and he doesn’t think that’s been happening.
“When it comes to our children, I’d just like to see a lot of emotion get put aside,” Anderson said. “What do the facts say? What do the numbers say? What are the actual risks? And I don’t feel that that occurred.”
Anderson says another thing he would like to change at the school district is the way the budget is presented. He says the spreadsheets can be confusing to the general public and he would like to see a budget format that is more user friendly and easier for parents to understand.
He’s also frustrated with the virtual school board meetings and would like to see those meetings go back to in-person, even if it means masking and social distancing.
This is the first of a two-part series on the school board election. Tomorrow, KFSK will report on incumbent, Katie Holmlund, who is hoping to retain her seat against Anderson. Also running for school board is Megan Litster. She is running unopposed for a two-year term.