Empire Editorial: It's time to draw the line

Since Thunder Mountain High School opened its doors in 2008, students have been allowed to choose which high school they will attend.

Many have opted for both.

They bounce back and forth, switching schools multiple times during their four-year high school careers.

The Juneau school board’s Next Generation High School plan, implemented in 2008, allowed students to transfer once per year. It was a compromise intended to encourage reluctant students to try the new high school. At the time, many noted Juneau’s high schools would eventually need to draw a line on the map and define boundaries just like the district’s middle and elementary schools do.

Now is the time.

Running buses from all parts of town to both schools comes with an extra $41,000 price tag. That’s enough to cover an employee’s salary. With the district’s budget being squeezed tighter and tighter, unnecessary expenditures like this need to go away.

Thunder Mountain was built for 838 students, with the ability to expand to accommodate 1,000. The school hasn’t come close to reaching that capacity. Next year, it’s projected to have 685 students — about 63 more than Juneau-Douglas High School.

Enrollment has come a long way since TMHS opened its doors to just 400 students, but it’s never reached the 725-student goal established in a three-year transition plan in 2007.

To be fair, part of the reason is there are fewer students in Juneau schools. Enrollment in all grades district-wide has dropped by 300 students since 2008.

With boundaries, planning for upcoming school years will be simpler. Look at how many eighth-graders are moving out of the middle schools, and that’s likely how many incoming freshmen you’ll see at the high schools. Setting firm boundaries saves planning time, and time is money, as we’ve heard so often.

Beyond the dollars and cents, it’s unproductive and inefficient for high school students to spend an hour riding the bus one way across town. That’s 10 hours per week for some students, enough to complete the day’s homework assignments, participate in an extracurricular school activity or work a part-time job. Instead, that time is wasted on a needless commute past one high school in order to attend one farther away.

There’s also the intangibles: If students attend the same high school all four years, they have a greater sense of school pride, stronger relationships with teachers and staff and increased stability in their learning environment. Boundary exemptions could still exist, but only in the exceptional circumstances that exist for middle and elementary schools.

If we’re drawing a line on expenses, let’s start by drawing a line on the map.

• Empire editorials are written by the Juneau Empire’s editorial board. Members include Publisher Rustan Burton, rustan.burton@juneauempire.com; Director of Audience Abby Lowell, abby.lowell@juneauempire.com; Managing Editor Charles L. Westmoreland, charles.westmoreland@juneauempire.com; and Asst. Editor James Brooks, james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com.

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