Election Coverage

Garrison a watchdog for public schools

Garrison_200School board president Lon Garrison has served two terms overseeing Sitka’s schools; this October he’ll ask voters for a third.

Garrison, like many board members, was first elected when his kids were in school. Now that his daughters have graduated, he says he’s following his passion, and using experience in policy and legislative advocacy to make a good school district even better.


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While Lon Garrison may not always be the first guy out on the dance floor, he’s not about to be a wallflower, either.

“If I’m going to do something, I’m going to participate.”

Garrison runs hatchery operations at the Sitka Sound Science Center, which he joined after a long career at the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association. He’s been active in Sitka Folk, recruiting and promoting talent — plus he’s the guy who comes out on stage in boots and a tweed vest and introduces the bands.

But you don’t have to attend many school board meetings to realize that he places a very high priority on this service, especially.

“It just struck a chord within me, and I’ve found that I have a passion for this. And I’ve met people from around the nation that have that same passion. And it’s really interesting, challenging, and rewarding to work on that.”

Over the past six years Garrison has inherited the role of legislative watchdog — both at the state and federal level. He is a past president of the Alaska Association of School Boards, and he’s a member of the National Forest Counties and Schools Coalition.

He believes the idea of public education is threatened right now, by a political push for school vouchers that’s happening in the name of finances.

“There’s a huge emphasis right now in the state legislature to contain costs. And that comes from the governor, and the majority of the legislature — which is a Republican-controlled legislature. They’re looking at their revenues, their dwindling funding sources. So when they begin to dwindle, everybody starts scrambling for the last dollar.”

At a candidate forum recently held by the Chamber of Commerce, Garrison mentioned that he was interested in strategic budgeting. The subject isn’t as compelling to discuss as the role of technology in the classroom, or how to fund activities, but it looms large for the board. The past two or three budgets have all been balanced by eleventh-hour infusions of cash from the state or federal government. He doesn’t think the district’s luck can hold out indefinitely, and he wants to be ready.

“Fortunately we haven’t taken a huge hit yet, all at once. But we are so close to that happening at any given time now, and it’s a little scary. That’s why I really want to work toward a strategic budget plan. It gives us the opportunity to maybe anticipate that and have conversations with people about what’s really important to them.”

Garrison often has expressed an interest in educating the whole child – through academics plus arts, extracurricular activities, and sports. But the board’s significant investment in technology has been criticized as being inconsistent with these fundamentals. Garrison encourages the critics to think again.

“Most of us use computers, software, and communications on a daily basis that require us to use this technology to be more efficient and to communicate well. And to say that we can’t afford to do that in the classroom — it doesn’t make sense to me.”

During last week’s Chamber of Commerce Forum, Garrison and Courtright disagreed over the role of the superintendent of schools — a job the school board will fill this year. Read the full story here.

Garrison is facing a challenger in this election — Stephen Courtright, a teacher at Mt. Edgecumbe High School. Ironically, Garrison says a new voice and new vision are what he would ordinarily encourage on the board. Now, though, he believes stability and experience are the better choice.

“I think so many things are changing — all at one time. It’s such a shifting field that the opportunity — or the necessity, I think — to have experienced board members who are not static, who are not entrenched in the same philosophy all the time. I think I am a critical thinker, I think I can see both sides of the issue, and sometimes I take risks. I think those are important qualities that sometimes it takes time to develop.”

The municipal election in Sitka is Tuesday, October 1st. Garrison and Courtright are vying for one seat on Sitka’s five-member school board. It’s a three-year term.

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