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As a parent of three children in school, I have been going to the public meetings on the proposed Valley high school. Here is why I am for building the Valley high school as proposed by the Juneau School Board:
The school board's proposal is most similar to what the people of the community voted for, approved, want and deserve.
Property taxes will actually be less than the voters authorized in 1999. Due to lower interest rates and a 60 percent reimbursement by the state, the School Board's proposal will mean property tax increases of $89 per $100,000, a 26 percent reduction compared to what the voters approved in 1999.
The smaller school as proposed by the city is undefined. It seems the city's intent is to qualify for the higher 70 percent reimbursement from the state. That school would be limited to 808 students with the core (commons, gym and mechanical systems) areas built to not exceed 981 students. This is a much smaller core than the School Board's plan. The board's plan would provide for 1,050 students and core areas for 1,500 students. Expansion or remodel of core areas is very major as can be witnessed every day at JDHS for the next year and a half.
Having a larger school in the Valley makes sense. Most of the population is in the Valley and we can avoid busing Valley students to the downtown school.
If the Assembly votes to go with the smaller, undefined school, we will have to pay for a redesign of the current plan. What gets cut in the redesign? Second gym? The larger cafeteria for the school lunch program? Smaller classrooms? Smaller hallways? Ya'Koos's (alternative high school) ability to be on campus? City staff seems to imply nothing significant will be cut. That is hard to understand.
JDHS is overcrowded and will have a capacity of 1,200 students when it is completed in 2004-05. We currently have approximately 1,730 students. JDHS is about 500 kids beyond capacity. I urge the Assembly to authorize design moneys to keep the project on schedule to open in '06. Approving the School Board plan will help keep the school opening in '06. For the Assembly to direct the School Board to change the plan could delay the opening date indefinitely.
Operational costs between the School Board's proposed facility and the city's smaller school are not significantly different. Gary Bader, outgoing superintendent, has prepared a detailed operations budget for the Assembly. Mr. Bader's operating budget shows how much money the district gets from the state for operations just by having a second high school ($800,000). We currently are being penalized by the state for being overcrowded at JDHS. Mr. Bader's operations budget shows an annual saving of $80,000 by being able to house Ya'Koos; and other savings from current rent for facilities that could be housed in a bigger new school.
Student projections for the school are by the Department of Education. This body allows for building a school with 60 percent reimbursement at a 1.67 percent growth rate. Some Assembly members are afraid the numbers will be flat. If flat, we will have a school with 865 students (halving the current student body population). We will have room for Ya'Koos and other programs. However, if enrollment grows at 1.67 percent, the smaller school needs an addition five years after opening and will be at capacity 10 years after opening. What funding will be available then? With declining oil revenues and state fiscal problems looming on the horizon, the opportunity for funding schools with reimbursement from the state is not likely to occur again anytime soon.
Other community projects can still go forward even with this additional bonding commitment to education. We have a sales tax coming up for reconsideration in the next two years. We can use those funds for airport improvements (FAA usually contributes also) and/or a library-pool complex. Some of our current bonding will mature and become available for other projects. A Capitol complex is being discussed and revenue bonds have been suggested which do not increase taxes. Please, Juneau, let your Assembly members know that you support the Valley high school as proposed by our School Board.
Andi Story is a parent-volunteer in Juneau schools, serves on the JDHS Site Council and is active with Auke Bay School's P.T.A.