Empire Editorial: Apathy trumps involvement yet again

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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