The Mat-Su School Board is widely regarded as the most conservative in the state, but two key races in the upcoming Nov. 7 Mat-Su Borough elections could substantially undermine the board’s ability to continue advancing solid conservative policy.
The school board currently enjoys a 6-1 conservative majority, with Ted Swanson being the lone left-leaning member. If union-backed challengers Sydney Zuyus and Dianne Shibe are successful in their bids to oust conservative incumbents Kathy McCollum and Ole Larson, that conservative majority could shrink to a narrow 4-3 edge.
Both McCollum and Larson have voted to strengthen parental rights, remove controversial social and sexual ideologies from classrooms, protect girls’ sports from gender confused male athletes, and opposed graphic sexualized books in school libraries.
Zuyus and Shibe appear to be on the opposite end of the political spectrum. Both enjoy the enthusiastic backing of prominent, hard-left Democrat Patricia Chesbro, who ran an extreme pro-abortion, LGBTQ and climate alarmism campaign in her failed bid to win the U.S. Senate race last year.
Chesbro is an official member of Shibe’s campaign team, and has posted multiple favorable comments about Zuyus on social media. In many ways, the Zuyus and Shibe campaigns seemed joined at the hip, echoing similar talking points and actively supporting each other’s efforts.
The Watchman sent questionnaires to all four candidates to give them a chance to lay out where they stand on key issues like parental rights, controversial library books, abortion and contraception referrals at school, transgender sports and bathrooms, mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion training, sex-education curriculum, gender pronoun policies, political activism among teachers and more.
While Zuyus and Shibe refused to respond to the questions, McCollum and Larson offered extensive answers that reflected their established conservative record (see survey results here).
Zuyus, who is attempting to unseat McCollum in District 3, grew up in the Mat-Su and studied graphic design at George Fox College. Since then, she’s worked a smattering of freelance web development and marketing jobs across the country. She moved back to Alaska over a year ago and now works as a communications associate for the Mat-Su Health Foundation.
Her campaign is chaired by her fiancé Seth Brehm, with far-left activist Josh Holbrook serving as her secretary.
Holbrook’s Facebook page includes pro-Zuyus posts, along with profanity-laced rants against conservatives. He also has photos of himself posing with a transgender sign and manning the Mat-Su Democrats’ state fair booth.
Zuyus’ official campaign material and social media sites avoid mentioning any specific policy goals. Instead, she posts vague slogans such as supporting “unity and transparency,” while “bridging gaps” so that “each student thrives, and every voice is valued.”
She also lists several priorities that emphasis “open communication” and “collective dialogue, and says her goal is to “back our teachers” in order to create an “environment where our children are best positioned to flourish.”
One section of her website deals with “parental choice,” but, again, Zuyus fails to flesh out exactly what she means. Instead, she claims to support “diversity of families” and the “unique experiences of every family.” There is no mention of homeschooling, correspondence or other forms of educational choice which are increasingly popular among Mat-Su families.
Zuyus employs the much used “evidence-based practices” as her gold standard when determining educational strategies. This term is often bandied about by sex-ed advocates to argue for explicit and often graphic curriculum. While Zuyus steers clear of sex-ed topics, she claims that her decisions will be grounded in “proven methodologies” rather than “conjecture.”
Dianne Shibe, who is running against Larson in District 6, is deeply embedded with the progressive teachers’ union, having served four years as president of the Mat-Su Education Association, from 2018 to 2022.
Like Zuyus, Shibe’s website is virtually devoid of specific policy goals, other than an expressed interest in establishing “transparency,” and representing the concerns of unionized teachers and district employees. She highlights her tenure as president of the teachers’ union, claiming that her “goal is to serve as a connection between the school board and district staff.”
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Shibe’s website does, however, reveal exactly why she’s running for office. In particular, she claims to be upset by a June 7 school board meeting in which the board approved a host of changes to strengthen parental rights, restrict the ability of educators to push controversial social and sexual ideologies on students, limit the ability of teachers to use class time to promote activist causes, and prohibit schools from referring to students with alternative gender pronouns without parental notification and permission. At the same meeting the board also clarified that school counselors are not authorized to offer advice to students about gender issues or personal problems without parental involvement.
In commenting on this meeting, Shibe said she had “finally witnessed enough.”
“The Board again changed policy with little or no explanation,” she wrote. “After many community members spoke to the proposed policy changes regarding teachers and counselors, every Board member except one declined to justify their vote to the public.”
Shibe goes on to question whether the board members were using “sound reasoning,” and claims their actions were upsetting to district employees.
In the lead up to the June 7 school board vote, numerous disgruntled teachers and librarians criticized the changes, claiming they limiting their ability to offer personal advice or disseminate controversial reading materials to students. Some of these educators characterized conservative parents as problematic, especially when parental values conflict with those of gender-confused students or their teachers.
— Mat-Su voters will vote on school board candidates during the Nov. 7 elections. Early voting begins Oct. 23. For more information about voting locations, balloting options and registration, click here.