Juneau school board upholds middle school travel ban

Group also hears first reading of 2015 budget
Jon Kurland, of the Stakeholder Committee on Middle School Sports Travel, center, makes a presentation to the Juneau School District's Board of Education and Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich, right, during their meeting at Juneau-Douglas High School on Tuesday.

The Juneau School District Board of Education voted unanimously to ignore a proposal by a group of middle school sports travel stakeholders who recommended the board reinstate travel with some conditions.


At the board’s Tuesday meeting, Jon Kurland of the Stakeholder Committee on Middle School Sports Travel presented the committee’s recommendation, developed after the board said in October it would consider other options to its controversial middle school travel ban.

The committee determined travel at both schools would be possible if new rules were applied to the system. Team trips should be limited to one per team per year, Kurland said. These trips can overlap with two school days maximum. Parents and volunteers should book travel to take the pressure off school staff. All travel expenses should be provided by the teams and deposited in a designated account before the trip. And “onus should be on the coach to demonstrate that a proposed trip is being offered equitably to all team members,” he said.

Before the board voted to ban middle school tavel, the two middle schools operated differently. Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School principal Molly Yerkes chose to go with an intramural, non-traveling sports program to eliminate financial stress on parents and provide equal opportunity to participate for all students at the school. Floyd Dryden principal Tom Milliron has opted for a competitive, traveling sports program that is “part of the fabric of the school,” Kurland said.

As the committee saw it, Kurland said, the board’s September decision to ban middle school travel isn’t going to work. It isn’t equitable. The board will either have to allow Floyd Dryden and Dzantik’i Heeni middle schools to do their own separate things, allow students from DHMS to play on FDMS’ traveling teams or put in place the recommendation of the committee.

However, board members said the recommendation changes nothing.

“None of the solutions feel comfortable to me,” board member Barbara Thurston said. “I’m not a fan of the existing policy — I think it’s hard on kids — but I don’t think this proposal is any better.”

“I wish there was something in the report that would cause me to change my mind,” board member Andi Story said. “But I feel like it’s a big cost to making it happen,” she said, citing the cost of substitute teachers who will be needed to fill in for team coaches who miss class for trips.

“I was really looking for some answers in the report that would cause me to change my mind,” board president Sally Saddler said.

Thurston asked Kurland if the committee had its mind made up from the very beginning to get middle school travel back.

“Was this a pro-travel committee to start with?” she asked.

“We made no secret of the fact that the committee was looking for a way to find a yes answer,” Kurland replied.

In the end, Saddler asked board members if they wanted to see the proposal on an upcoming agenda. Nobody raised their hand.

Board vice president Sean O’Brien said he was hoping to hear in the proposal “viable nuggets of information that we could implement into the policy;” however, “I just don’t see it.”

Parents and teachers in the audience were audibly upset by O’Brien’s comments.

“I was shocked the first time they voted for (a ban on middle school travel), and it was even more shocking the second time,” Floyd Dryden Middle School AVID teacher Molly Box said after the board’s vote.

The two middle school principals should be calling the shots on travel at their own schools, not the board, she said.

Kurland said during a break in the meeting that he’s “disappointed” by the board’s reaction to the proposal. He felt “the committee came up with some pragmatic solutions,” he said.

But as for trying further to get middle school travel back, “I think our work is done,” Kurland said.

Also at the meeting, district Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich presented the administration’s revised fiscal year 2015 budget. District administrators tweaked the budget based on a proposal from the community budget committee.

The revised budget adopted one of the budget committee’s suggestions: postpone a $400,000 secondary math curriculum purchase. The other changes were the addition of one full-time teaching position at both Thunder Mountain and Juneau-Douglas high schools to improve graduation requirements ($205,000) and implement a $143,000 credit recovery program at all three high schools.

The board will do a second reading of the proposed budget at its next meeting. It will pick and choose from the committee and administrative proposals to create the final budget.

The board also voted to allow Gelbrich to sign a new food service contract with school meal company Chartwells, replacing the NANA Management Services contract the district has held since the 2008-2009 school year. Declining school meal sales prompted the district to look for a different provider, JSD Director of Administration David Means said in a previous Empire report.

Editor’s note: The meeting was still in progress at press time.

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