Longtime Juneau Board of Education member Brian Holst listens during a board meeting in May. Holst rescinded his run for candidacy for a fourth term on the board late last week. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

Longtime school board member rescinds candidacy

Brian Holst pulls from race days after submitting, set to step away after nine years.

The Juneau Board of Education is set to say farewell to one of its longest-serving members after veteran board member Brian Holst rescinded his candidacy for a fourth term late last week.

Holst, executive Director for Juneau Economic Development Council and a Juneau resident for more than four decades, is set to step away from his seat after nine years on the board following the Oct. 3 municipal election when his term will expire.

In an interview on Monday, Holst said he feels “very fortunate” having served on the board since 2014, and the decision to pull his candidacy just a few days after submitting it was to allow new faces the opportunity to serve.

“When I did submit my name I was willing to run, obviously, but I wanted to make space for others to have the same opportunity,” he said. “On Friday at noon when I submitted my name there were no other candidates, but by Monday afternoon there were several candidates, so I was satisfied that there are others that want to take on this challenge.”

Candidates now in the running to fill Holst’s seat and board member Martin Stepetin Sr.’s seat are Paige Sipniewski, Britteny Cioni-Haywood and David Noon. Stepetin did not file for reelection.

Prior to rescinding his candidacy, Holst said he called and spoke to each candidate in the running, and feels confident about what each of their perspectives could bring to the table.

“The one sense that I have for all of them is that they do care deeply about Juneau and about our schools,” he said. “So from that point of view I feel really good about those candidates, that there are good choices for the folks of Juneau.”

Holst’s time on the board was anything but dull with him and other members having to navigate a multitude of trials and tribulations like the COVID-19 pandemic, flat funding from the state and internal budget issues.

Despite those difficulties, Holst said he had cherished time on the board and the lessons he learned along the way.

“One of the best things we can do as board members is to help to engage the public and not just be our individual opinions, but also try to be the voice of others in our community — that’s something that I have really enjoyed,” he said. “Our schools are really as good as the community support for them is in Juneau. We really are fortunate that our community supports us in so many ways and it just really makes our schools really, really strong.”

Board Vice President Emil Mackey said Holst will be sorely missed, but said he is excited to see who will replace him and what new perspective they will bring to the board.

“It’s a long time to be going to a school board meeting, especially fighting the battles that we do, but he has brought a lot of good knowledge and perspective to the board, along with stability as a past president,” Mackey said. “I am saddened to see him go, but I understand the choice completely.

Mackey said he feels the candidate pool for the school board this election is strong, and the reality of having two new faces come October could make a major difference to the board.

“When elected, I think their fresh perspectives bring considerable value when you have a board largely of returners, and the people newly elected are willing to consider fresh perspectives in contrast with tradition and the need for change,” he said.

Board President Deedie Sorensen agreed, and described Holst as the “board’s historian,” saying he always brought excellent questions and insight to the board.

“He has been a tremendous asset to the board,” she said.

Sorensen said she is also excited to see this year’s contested election, saying it “gives people an opportunity to vote on what they’re looking for.”

The deadline for Juneau residents to register to vote for the municipal election is Sept. 3, with by-mail voting beginning in mid-September.

Brief bios of the three school board candidates:

— Paige Sipniewski, a Juneau mother of four expressed support for a “parental rights” bill proposed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy during the legislative session that would restrict references to sex and gender in schools, as well as require parents to opt-in for their children to take sex education classes. “I have already taken two of my kids out (of public school) and placed them in private. I have one more in public that I’ve considered taking out as well,” she wrote in testimony about the bill submitted on April 12, stating such withdrawals by parents locally and statewide will be widespread without the bill.

— Britteny Cioni-Haywood, chair of the Academic Policy Committee for the Juneau Community Charter School board, adjunct professor of economics at The University of Alaska Southeast and administrative operations manager for the Alaska Division of Commercial Fisheries. “I’m an educator and I think there’s real challenges with the budget, and I would like to provide the experience that I have from working at the state and other aspects of my life to helping the school district,” she told the Empire.

— David Noon, a history professor at UAS since 2002, his official bio states he “is particularly interested in the period between the Civil War and World War I; the history of race and social science; and contemporary debates about empire in American history.” He is also listed as a producer for Salt and Soil Marketplace, and on that website, he states “I spend much of my free time in the summer gathering berries, spruce tips, dandelions, and fireweed…although I am a university history professor during the school year, summers are for loading up the kitchen with mason jars, giant pots, mounds of pectin, and enormous bags of sugar.”

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651)-528-1807.

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