Are the Falcons financially feasible?
Amid a sea of pros and cons about building a second high school in Juneau, an informal survey of more than a dozen coaches and advisors at Juneau-Douglas High School demonstrated near-unanimity on a single overriding concern: In a community already carrying a heavy burden of financial support for school activities, how will a second set of programs be funded if and when the Valley high school, with its Falcon mascot, comes online?
"This town is saturated with fund raising right now," said boys basketball coach George Houston, who graduated from JDHS in 1969 and has coached and taught at the school for three decades.
"The district has gotten by for a long time not contributing more money to activities (and) allowing new activities to come in that are self-funded."
Houston estimated the boys basketball team raises about $50,000 a year through raffles, gym banner sponsors, Fast Break Club memberships and other means to cover program costs beyond what the district pays for.
"There's no way the community could do more, in my view," said baseball coach Jim Ayers, whose program gathers donations and relies on pull-tab revenue. Two high schools "will kill the goose. ... We're barely able to fund one school."
Activities districtwide now receive $200,000 from the city and $131,000 from the district annually, according to business manager Gary Epperson. Of the city funds, $75,000 covers high school travel in the region, according, to JDHS activities director Sandi Wagner; just over $110,000 goes to coaches' salaries; and the remainder goes to activities at the district's other schools.
The district funds cover Alaska Schools Activities Association dues, salaries for activities office staff and other related expenses. Superintendent Peggy Cowan said the district is committed to maintaining that level of support for each school.
But uniforms, equipment, out-of-region travel and other expenses are paid for by students and booster clubs. The high school activity fee went up this year - either $25 or $60 per activity, with a $100 individual and $200 family cap - and many sports charge an additional participation fee. All that is in addition to fund raising, which 2 years ago totaled nearly $1 million.
Travel is the biggest expense. Cowan said having two smaller schools in Juneau would create a no-cost, in-town opponent and make for a more competitive Southeast with Sitka and Ketchikan - something noted positively by several coaches.
That could reduce the need to travel to Anchorage for games, though savings there could be tempered by the additional cost of sending a second team around the region for competitions.
Coaches and parents with the football program have already publicly voiced concern about their ability to fund two teams, and with Cowan they have explored ways to maintain one team for both schools.
ASAA Executive Director Gary Matthews said that under current association rules, the two schools/one team concept is not an option.
"The only way that would be possible is if one high school were a regular, comprehensive high school, and the other was a charter school" or other alternative school not affiliated with ASAA, Matthews said.
Under those guidelines, students at Yaakoosge Daakahidi can play sports at JDHS. Adapting the rules to fit the Valley high school would require the ASAA's board of directors to grant Juneau an exemption under the co-op rule.
ASAA's co-op rule allows students from very small schools to join with other schools to form teams. But the rule currently is open only to Class 1A and 2A schools, Matthews said. Juneau - with one school or two - is Class 4A.
A two-year exemption is in effect for girls hockey at large schools in Anchorage, but was granted because the sport is new to the area and organizers needed a couple of years to build up participation.
If needed, Cowan said, the district would try to secure an exemption for football at least through the transition period.
Proponents of a second high school cite the opportunity for increased student participation in athletics. Among sports, boys basketball and boys soccer are among a minority of programs that have been unable to accommodate all interested students. With few other exceptions, sports teams and other activities are generally open to any student willing to make the commitment of time - and, in some cases, fund raising - required by the program.
But a second high school would offer athletes more playing time and a better chance to compete at the varsity level.
"We've had pretty competitive teams the last few years, and it's always hard to tell these seven, eight, nine runners that they haven't made the (varsity) team" that competes at region and state meets, cross-country coach Guy Thibodeau said.
In some non-athletic activities such as school plays, there is the potential for double the student involvement. And studies show that kids who are involved in activities perform better in academics.
Beyond finances, coaches and advisors raised some concerns specific to their activity. For example, swim coach John Wray wondered if the city's only pool - Augustus Brown - can fit a second swim team's practices into an already packed list of user groups.
Cowan said and she hopes to hear from and work with coaches, advisors, parents and students at public meetings over the next few months.
Until more questions are answered, though, many involved in activities will wait with mixed emotions.
"I'm torn on it," said boys soccer coach Gary Lehnhart, a teacher at JDHS. "I'm convinced that two high schools are better academically. I'm not sure financially."
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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