In the fall of 2021, Juneau schools still had a district-wide mask mandate in place when seven candidates for school board participated in a forum ahead of the local election.
Watching at home, Will Muldoon realized that at least two candidates were running just to overturn the mask mandate. He knew he had to do something.
He said 25 people called him — some he didn’t even know — encouraging him to run.
“So that kind of felt like critical mass for me,” he said.
Muldoon works as a data analyst for the state of Alaska. He doesn’t have kids. But he is passionate about civic engagement. He serves on six boards and commissions for the city and the state. The school board takes the most time and energy, though.
“The one thing I really didn’t fully consider was just how much of your life it takes over,” he said.
There are the meetings, of course, but there’s also homework between the meetings. And hours and hours of reading emails each week from constituents. People don’t usually write in to tell board members they are doing a good job. The tone is often less than civil.
In his first year, the board has taken public feedback on COVID-19 policies, bathroom use for trans students and reaction to the school district’s food vendor serving floor sealant to students instead of milk.
“It’s tough, because I think with schools in particular, I feel personally that it’s not my job to tell people how to raise their kids, or even really have an opinion on that item,” he said.
But it is his job to make policies informed by the public on the schools’ role in their kids’ lives.
Muldoon says people often ask him if he enjoys serving on the school board.
“‘Enjoy’ is never the word I’m going to use in my top five adjectives,” he said. “I think the work is valid. I think it’s important. It’s also impactful to me on an individual level — like, it’s tough.”
But he’s still enthusiastic about recommending people run for local office.
There are no contested seats on the school board this year. But Muldoon says it’s not too late to “pull a Will Muldoon” and enter the race as a write-in candidate.
“It’s tough to win a write-in campaign,” he said. “I’m aware of that, obviously, and the chances aren’t always the best.”
He ran for school board twice before last year — the first time, when he was only 18 years old.
“I tend to just be a born loser,” he said. “But I don’t mind losing. It’s okay to lose. It’s okay to make mistakes, because that is what really helps us get better.”
He recognizes that the last few years have been hard on everyone. The pandemic has left us burned out on work and on life, which includes our volunteer work and our civic engagement. But he also recognizes that we can’t make life easier for each other if people don’t step up.
“Do I want to be on six boards next year? Probably not,” he said. “Do I want a couple of more folks in our community to be on at least one or two? Yeah, I think so.”
Juneau’s election is by mail again this year and ballots have already hit most people’s mailboxes. But voters have until 8:00 p.m. on Oct. 4 to cast their votes.
There are also dozens of vacancies on Juneau’s boards and commissions.
Muldoon’s advice is always going to be to go for it.
“I wish that people would run and not be afraid to lose with that in mind,” he said. “And if your end goal is to be engaging, and advocating for the things that you believe in, losing is a real good door opener for that.”
This story is part of KTOO’s participation in the America Amplified initiative to use community engagement to inform and strengthen our journalism. America Amplified is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.