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Advocates gearing up for election

Build It Now takes on Juneau Students First in high school build/don't build controversy

Posted: Sunday, March 21, 2004

An organization has formed to encourage local voters to support a second high school.

Build It Now will urge voters in the May 25 special election to reject a ballot initiative that would block construction of a high school at Dimond Park unless certain conditions of enrollment, operating budget and building size are met.

The initiative sponsors formed an organization, Juneau Students First, when they solicited signatures this winter to put the initiative on the ballot.

Jeff Bush, co-chairman of Build It Now, said the group of 30 to 40 people is growing. It meets at 5 p.m. Wednesdays at the conference room at the Bill Ray Center.

The group plans to run advertisements on the radio and in newspapers, and to speak to civic organizations.

"It's primarily an education campaign," Bush said. "We believe if we do get the word out on what's involved in the new school, the public will once again vote for it - against the initiative and in favor of the new school."

Build It Now expects to emphasize that Juneau-Douglas High School is overcrowded, with 500 students more than its state-rated capacity, Bush said.

"The only reason it's not more (overcrowded) is we have such an outrageous dropout rate in this town," Bush said, referring to a 35 percent dropout rate.

Build It Now also plans to address questions about funding the new school's annual operations and state reimbursement for construction.

Reed Stoops, a member of the group, said he joined because he has a son in seventh grade.

"I voted for a new high school in the two times I had an opportunity to do so," he said. "I think it's in the best interest of the community."

Two smaller schools will be better educationally, and a school in the Mendenhall Valley will provide more facilities for the community, Stoops added.

Some residents are concerned about building a new school when it's possible there will be teacher layoffs because of cuts to the school district's operating budget.

But, Stoops said, "a new school's not going to make the situation better or worse in terms of the number of teachers. We're just going to split the teachers, whatever we have."

Build It Now will have a Web site soon, Bush said.

The Juneau Students First Web site is at www.juneaustudentsfirst.com. It includes position papers on the issues surrounding a second high school, essays and school district documents.

"We expected significant growth in the high school population, we expected more money to be flowing to the school district because of that growth, and we expected to be able to run two equal 'comprehensive' high schools. Now, we're faced with fewer students than predicted and less money. Without the students and the revenue, we could be building a budget-straining building that will take money away from teaching and educational programs," one document says.

"It is not too late to adjust our plans to meet the conditions we are experiencing now and see for the future. In fact, unless we make some changes to our plans, we will see a reduction in courses and programs offered to our kids, and more competition for money for teachers.

"Taking this time to reconsider the current project also offers an opportunity to bring greater understanding to the many components that make up good schools, not just the building itself," the Juneau Students First Web site says.

The Juneau Assembly is scheduled to vote Monday to appropriate $5,000 to the city manager's office to prepare information pamphlets to be mailed to registered voters. The money comes from the sales tax budget reserve.

Deputy City Manager Donna Pierce said that because the issue of a new high school has been covered in several elections, she will model this year's information pamphlet on the state's practice of letting each side make a brief statement.

The pamphlet will include a neutral summary of the initiative, provided by the city, and 500-word statements from advocates for and against the initiative. The city won't edit the partisan statements, she said.

• Eric Fry can be reached at eric.fry@juneauempire.com.



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