Paul Kelly has always been interested in politics, but recently his interest has become a little more personal.
Kelly, who moved from Anchorage to Juneau in 2017 to be a legislative aide for Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, recently got engaged to a woman who has two children attending Juneau School District schools. With that development, Kelly decided in April that he wanted to run for a spot on the Board of Education.
“That’s made it a little more relevant, and I think necessary,” Kelly said.
Kelly, 34, filed his letter of intent with the Alaska Public Offices Commission in May, and said he’s has been attending School Board meetings and talking with board members since then. Kelly was the first person to send in his letter of intent, which allows candidates to begin fundraising.
Another challenger, biologist Elizabeth Siddon, filed her paperwork this past Sunday. Three seats are up for grabs this fall, as school board members Josh Keaton and Emil Mackey are running for re-election and Andi Story is running for a state house seat.
Kelly, a third-generation Alaskan and University of Alaska Anchorage graduate, said he reached out to Siddon on Sunday and told her he’s looking forward to election season. The election takes place Oct. 2, and candidates can officially file for the race between Aug. 3 and Aug. 13.
After his time with the Legislature, Kelly decided to remain in Juneau and took a job as a programmer with the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOT&PF), where he currently works. After working in the Legislature and having a front-row seat to how the process works, he said watching Board of Education meetings has been refreshing.
“What I like about the School Board, in the meetings I’ve attended, compared to the Legislature, it’s much less contentious,” Kelly said. “People might have legitimate disagreements, but it’s more about what’s best for the students, so there’s not so much grandstanding.”
While speaking with current members of the board including Story, President Brian Holst and Jeff Short (who earned a spot on the board in the 2017 election), Kelly said he’s shared a few ideas and visions for how JSD might look in the future.
Kelly said he understands that lack of funding is the largest challenge facing the school district, and that an affordable solution is working with community organizations to augment what’s taught in the classroom. The board has already been looking for these partnerships in recent years, earning grants from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation for arts education in elementary schools and from the Sealaska Heritage Foundation for Alaska Native art classes in high schools, among other grants.
Kelly would like to see more of those community partnerships, he said. On his website, paul4juneau.com, he also believes in reducing class sizes and providing more training opportunities for teachers.
Over the years, Kelly has served in a variety of educational and leadership roles. He was initially a French major at UAA and spent two years in France as an assistant to an English teacher, and was also a substitute teacher for a time at the Anchorage School District.
He served as president or co-president of multiple engineering organizations at UAA, and is currently the secretary for the ASEA (Alaska State Employee Association) AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) Local 52 Union.
With that leadership experience and his time at the Legislature, Kelly said he’s prepared to stick up for the school district, regardless what happens in the October election.
“I think the school district would benefit more from my experience as a consensus builder,” Kelly said. “As a school board member, or even just as a community member if I don’t get elected, I plan on testifying in support of education funding when I go to the hill.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.