8-1 vote for Valley school reflects realistic optimism

Empire editorial

Posted: Sunday, February 02, 2003

Even though the Juneau Assembly's approval of a $60.8 million version of a Mendenhall Valley high school was described as a "compromise," it was apparent which of the competing plans came out ahead - the best one.

The Juneau School District preferred a school that would house 1,050 students at first and could be expanded to accommodate 1,500 students.

The facility favored by the city staff would house 885 students to start and could be expanded to handle 1,100.

The pricetags were $62 million for the district's version and $50 million for the city staff's version. According to the math, the "compromise" consisted of a $1.2 million slimming - just 10 percent - of the difference between the two.

As the school district's taxing authority, the Assembly controls the district's purse strings. Those strings connect to the wallets and checkbooks of city and borough residents. The temptation is to say the strings connect to "property owners," because they feel the tax implications most directly. But the costs are spread around; everyone has a financial stake - as well as a stake in the future of our community's children.

The Assembly therefore was correct to scrutinize every detail and dollar of the school district's preferred plan for Juneau's second high school just as administrators, teachers, staff, parents and students were correct in advocating for the best affordable facility possible.

Ultimately, the challenge was to reach consensus, or at least a majority vote, on realistic expectations. As usual, those fell somewhere between the most optimistic and pessimistic outlooks for Juneau's future. Is the community likely to grow or to wither over the life of a new high school? In an 8-1 vote, the Assembly decided our glass is half-full, not half-empty, and that there is a realistic basis to believe we face population growth rather than shrinkage.

Voters who previously approved $48.3 million in bonds for a high school project face a spring election in which they will be asked to pony up another $12.5 million - at the most. With voter approval, the new school would open in 2006.

"Everyone is tightening their belts just a little bit and it won't result in a lesser facility at all," outgoing schools Superintendent Gary Bader said after the Assembly's vote.

With voter approval of the increased cost for the school, the state will reimburse the city for 60 percent of the costs and 60 percent of the interest on the bonds.

We appreciate the efforts of everyone who contributed to creating the best plan for a new high school. We encourage voters to educate themselves about the proposal and to endorse it when the opportunity is offered this spring.

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