An 8 am meeting of the House Education Committee was abruptly ended after Representative Jamie Allard (R – Eagle River) repeatedly berated two officials form the Alaska Department of Education & Early Development (DEED), as well as her colleagues on the committee.
Allard, who co-chairs the committee with Representative Justin Ruffridge (R – Soldotna), started the meeting by calling up Susan McKenzie, the director of the Division of Innovation & Education Excellence and Deborah Riddle, the division operations manager, to present an annual report. She told them, “I think I could be a little more descriptive though. This is going over all the pockets of money that come from everywhere – federal, grants, state and local contributions, donations, revenue – everything, to all of our school districts. Fifty-four of them in the State of Alaska. I just want to be clear. You have all that information ready to go?”
McKenzie (who was just appointed as the new Education commissioner but since turned down the role), responded by saying they were there to present information from the Thick Report, an annual progress report on how each school district in Alaska is performing. Allard responded, “I hope it’s everything I asked for. Please proceed.”
This is where the meeting started going off the rails.
Before McKenzie could get in a full sentence, Allard interrupted her and said, “Can I stop you for a minute. I don’t believe this is what I’ve requested, and I don’t know why. But I don’t see any – do you have fiscal charts of all the pockets of money that come? Because we’ve already received this, haven’t we already received this briefing?” McKenzie informed Allard they received the report by February 15, the statutory deadline, and that they were there to present on it.
Allard told her that is not what she requested. Riddle then stated that the report did include all the funds that go to each district. Allard then aggressively asked, “Do you have it broken down in dollar signs so we can see those numbers?” She was told yes, then called an at ease so they could hand out the information. But the information was already in the report the committee had.
Allard started asking about the entire Education budget, totaling $2.5 billion, and demanded to know where all the money was coming from and going. She informed McKenzie and Riddle that she was “bringing in an economist to go through all of the numbers,” implying they were hiding something. Allard then said, “So next time when we ask for information, instead of coming down here and not getting that and providing that information, we need to make sure we have that. This is a public committee. The public needs to know. And this is why I made sure that we have an economist coming in, to go through and dissect. Because there is a lot of information that is missing that I specifically requested. Go ahead with your presentation.”
Allard then interrupted McKenzie again, “Thank you. I want to stop you for a second. You said you already gave this report to us on February 15.” McKenzie told her yes, the report is due every year on February 15. Allard rudely responded, “This isn’t what I’m looking for. I want to go over the numbers. So can we skip through all these slides since we’ve already had these slides, and go to the report on the numbers. All the funding. Every revenue. Everything that goes to every single school district across the State of Alaska. It’s gonna be a deep dive! So if we can just skip to annual report.”
Riddle started going over federal programs and grants. But then Allard, without, explanation called an at ease. She can be seen talking to her staffer and then Ruffridge. Allard then realized, probably because Ruffridge told her, that the committee had not yet had a presentation on the report. Visibly upset, Allard told them to quickly go through the slides so they could go through all the Education funds. Riddle, understandably, became nervous while she attempted to rush through the presentation.
Allard then allowed questions from committee members. After a few normal questions, Allard started in on McKenzie and Riddle again. She asked for the number of federal grants to each district and the amounts of the grants. Riddle told her she could get Allard the information, and started to explain the grant process. When she was done, Allard informed her they were now going to talk about state and local revenue.
Allard again berated McKenzie and Riddle, saying “And it sounds like even if I ask the question, that we don’t have a total. But I want the public to know what buckets we have. So I’m going to ask you the question and if you have a total – and I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be no, you’ll get back to us – and that’s what I was trying to prevent today, so we will do a complete and other round when I chair again.”
Allard asked them to please state what REAA means and rudely reminded them they came to the meeting unprepared. McKenzie explained what the REAA (Regional Educational Attendance Area) is and told Allard she would get her the information she requested. Keep in mind it is standard procedure for departments to tell legislative committees they will get requested information back to them.
It’s important to note that these two women represent the administration of Governor Mike Dunleavy (R – Alaska). It’s unusual for a legislator, who is supposedly allied with the governor, to publicly attack people from his/her administration. Recall in 2021 when Dunleavy sent then-Senator Lora Reinbold (also from Eagle River) a letter informing her officials from his administration would stop responding to her as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Reinbold had repeatedly berated members of Dunleavy’s administration during committee hearings. A few months later, the Senate removed Reinbold as chair of the committee.
Allard kept asking questions about the budget, reading from some kind of mystery document she was holding. After Allard asked about multiple “columns” in the document she was holding, and for specifics about each column, she stated that she requested the information she had from the Education commissioner, but never got it. Then Allard asked if anyone had any questions before she goes into the second page of the mystery document. Representative Andi Story (D – Juneau) reminded Allard that many of the things she asked for had already been presented to the committee. Allard responded, “No, Representative Story. I don’t recall getting those numbers put on public record. But thank you. Do you have a question?” Story said she did not.
Here is where the meeting went fully off the rails.
Representative Rebecca Himschoot (I – Sitka) asked Allard about the mystery document she was holding, “Where did you get this document? What are you working from?” Allard responded, “Do you have a question for DEED? This is a DEED document, that I’m working off their numbers. Did you have a question for DEED?” Himschoot said no, but again asked for the document. Allard responded, “They didn’t give it to me. Any other questions?”
Allard went back to asking questions from her mystery document. Riddle and McKenzie were having a hard time answering questions from a document that no one but Allard had. Then, out of no where, Allard asked Himschoot if she wanted to “volunteer her district” for the amount of federal revenue the Sitka School District receives. It seemed to be some kind of flex. It was really bizarre. Allard continued asking a series of questions from the mystery document. But then Representative Mike Prax (R – North Pole), a fellow majority member, also asked Allard where she got the mystery document. He tried to ask for it, but Allard cut him off. Then she said it was something her office put together, contradicting her previous statement that it came from DEED.
This is when Ruffridge had enough. He could be seen asking Allard for an at ease. After a huddle between several majority members, Allard called the meeting back to order. She stated that DEED did not have the answers to the questions she wanted and apologized to them for “being on the hot seat.” McKenzie apologized for the “Lack of communication about what you wanted and what we thought you wanted. We would have been ready.” Allard acknowledged that and added that she had the wrong team in front of her. She then adjourned the meeting.
When asked about the nature of the meeting, Ruffridge told the Landmine,” We made a good decision to adjourn the meeting and bring things up at a later date. The meeting ceased to be productive.”
Prax and Story declined to provide a comment.
The entire meeting can be seen here. It’s definitely worth watching.