As city officials move relentlessly forward with the design and construction of the new high school at Dimond Park, some Juneau residents are questioning this project. They are wondering how the city proposes to operate and maintain an additional high school while at the same time proposing teacher layoffs and substantial budget cuts. These two ideas are totally incongruous, and the operational costs programmatically and fiscally irresponsible. Common sense suggests we have created a monster with an insatiable appetite that will devour our tax dollars and create operational deficits for years to come.
Supporters of the new high school respond that residents had all the facts when they voted for the bond issues to build the facility. But did we really have all the information necessary to make an informed decision? Discussions and debate about operational costs were at best muted with emphasis on capturing the almost mystical reimbursement funds to build the school. So what are the projected annual operational costs for the Dimond Park high school and how will they be paid for considering the highly publicized budget reductions proposed by the school board?
Skeptics are also wondering how this new facility will: 1) Lower absenteeism and truancy; 2) Reduce the drop-out rate for minority students; 3) Improve high school qualifying exit exam test scores; 4) Increase adult mentoring programs at all grade levels; 5) Stimulate parents to take an active role in their child's education; and 6) Improve service delivery for children with serious learning and behavior problems.
Being a trusting people, we would like to believe that voting for the new high school addresses these and a myriad of other issues confronting our educational system. But even the most avid supporters of the new school do not believe these chronic problems will be resolved with a new building in the valley. They know that these difficult problems have reserved seats next to students in the new high school classrooms.
The supreme irony of this situation is that assembly and school board members who pushed the project likely won't be around to go through the gut-wrenching process of "crunching the numbers" to provide the operational funds to support this facility while dealing with a sizeable deficit. Rest assured, whoever is in charge will ask taxpayers to again foot the bill to balance the budget. So when excavation begins, drive by and peek at the gaping hole in the ground. Then look at the mud and ooze of the construction site and reflect on the depth of the fiscal quagmire we helped create. The real question is why we stood passively by and let it happen while suspecting that a new high school would exacerbate the district's mounting deficit and increase the tax burden on every Juneau property owner.