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Empire Editorial: Apathy trumps involvement yet again

Posted: April 20, 2014 - 12:07am

Four people attended Thursday’s public forum on the search to find Juneau’s next superintendent. Half of those attendees, an Empire reporter and photographer, were paid to be there. That’s not quite the showing of support and involvement the district was hoping for. We certainly expected a better showing.

It wasn’t that long ago when scores of teachers and union supporters flooded school board meetings railing against the administration; families rallied against the banning of middle school sports travel, and other stakeholder groups preached “staff over stuff” during public testimony. People wanted the Juneau Board of Education to listen to them in those cases. But when the Board asked for community involvement to highlight the qualities Juneau most wants in its next superintendent, two people is what they got. To be fair, eight attended Wednesday’s meeting.

This is an all-to-common trend in Juneau, unfortunately. Anger quickly turns to apathy, and then when it matters most — elections and public forums — everyone has something better to do. This pattern led to an all-time low in voter turnout last year — a meager 19 percent — compared to the previous low of 26 percent in 2008. That means in 2013, the majority vote consisted of just 10 percent of registered voters — hardly a majority considering the bigger picture.

Yet it sure does seem as though more than 19 percent of our population has strong feelings about how our schools, city and state are being managed.

Taxpayers are footing the bill for Ray and Associates to find Juneau a good fit to lead our schools — $25,000 to be exact — but residents will determine the actual value of what we’re paying through their involvement in the process. Fortunately, Ray and Associates has been meeting with individual groups on the side, so they’ve received some feedback, at least.

We will give kudos to the 210 people who responded to an online survey put out by the school district seeking input. It’s still a small number compared to actual stakeholders in the community, but it’s something. The survey can be found on the school district’s website or by visiting www.surveymonkey.com/s/QY2YGRG.

It’s not enough to be mad about an issue for a few days, weeks or months. Residents must be the instrument of change that they preach. That starts with public involvement — attending forums, testifying at public meetings — and culminates at the polls.

If Juneau gets the superintendent it wants, give credit to those who attended the forums and sent in anonymous surveys along with the school board and hiring firm. And if it doesn’t, blame yourself if you’re part of the super-majority who chose apathy over involvement yet again.

• 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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Lorraine Murray
417
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Lorraine Murray 04/20/14 - 11:37 am
7
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It’s pretty discouraging

It’s pretty discouraging dealing with CBJ and the assembly. They don’t even follow their own core policies and SOP's which makes it hard for the public to feel “empowered” or “vested” in the issues. The public likes principled centered leadership not dictatorships.

Debbie White
755
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Debbie White 04/20/14 - 12:57 pm
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Apathy? Hardly. We just gave up!

What a condescending opinion piece to write, Juneau Empire. Shame on you.

I know of plenty of parents who tried to be involved. I believe at least 100 of them showed up to school board meetings trying to argue against a draconian, unfair, and senseless policy change. I know I was involved in this issue for over a year, starting with an opinion piece I wrote which was published February 8, 2013.

The school board disregarded all protests, comments, and opinions from the general public. They refused to look at facts or even consider any opinion other than their own as it was blatantly obvious they were not going to sway from their decisions. In fact, this group was labeled as a vocal minority of uninformed individuals.

I’m glad someone was paid to attend the meetings. I own a small business and I’m not paid for such things. For that reason, if I know I’m wasting my time, that facts don’t matter and my efforts are a waste of time, I have to move on to things that do matter. I volunteer my time and donate money to many causes within this community. Those resources are limited and I have to make choices on where I may have the most impact. Debating with the current school board is a waste of those efforts.

Judy Hodel
4720
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Judy Hodel 04/20/14 - 04:55 pm
6
2
Why Bother

Middle School Travel stake holders committee and JSD Budget Committee were totally disregarded by the school board. The Bean Counter will say otherwise but the facts speak for themselves. What ever the dark lord wanted he got.

The assembly is no better- disregarding their own elected and advisory boards all of the time. See zoning.

The ballot box is the only place citizens can make a difference.

Vote out O'Brien and Saddler on School board and Wanamaker on assembly in 2014 municipal election.

Adam Berkey
57
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Adam Berkey 04/21/14 - 09:41 am
6
1
Why Would People Show Up?

How can there be any surprise that no one came to discuss what is wanted with a new superintendent? Here's what people want:

1) People who fulfill their contracts;
2) Teachers over curriculum;
3) Middle school travel;
4) Someone local and invested in Juneau.

Here's what Juneau will get:

1) A $25,000 bill to find a superintendent early due to the loss of our current superintendent;
2) Less teachers and a million spent on curriculum that teachers don't want;
3) No middle school travel;
4) A superintendent who will be hired (and possibly live) outside of Juneau.

There is only one option left, and it's already been mentioned. Fill the ballot boxes with votes for new school board members with the hope that those left on the board begin to listen to their constituents.

I have testified at School Board meetings for two years. I have watched this board deny the wants of teachers, students, and parents again and again. You want a survey filled out? Put out a survey asking one question of teachers: "Does the Director of Teaching and Learning, in her administrative position, do anything to help and further the learning of students?" I'd love to see that answer. This is the person who leads and plans all of the inservice days and has pushed this curriculum move more than anyone else while facing budget shortfalls.

The time of reason and testifying is, and has been, long past the point of over. Now is the time to unelect every single person who has been disrespectful and unwilling to listen to constituents. The first two to go will be Saddler and O'Brien. Phyllis Carlson needs to go ASAP, as does Barbara Thurston. Then, maybe, people will listen to the people again. Until then, these people go unchecked.

I was done with school board the second Sean O'Brien shamed all of the Juneau School District employees by stating that he "believes in self-fulfilling prophecies" and noted that if the curriculum failed it would be the fault of the teachers. I wish I were making this up. Listen to the minutes of the meetings.

Our democratic system is one of checks and balances. There is no check or balance to the people who pretend to work on your behalf, Juneau. The school board will do whatever they want, whenever they want to.

I'm proud of Juneau for refusing to be part of the mock democracy we call 'The Juneau School Board.' George S. Patton once said, “If everyone is thinking alike, then someone isn't thinking.” Our School Board, and superintendent, are in 100% agreement. What does that tell you?

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