Building the new high school makes good financial sense

Posted: Thursday, May 20, 2004

Opponents of the new high school say we can't afford to build and operate another school. I believe we can.

Sixty percent of the money to build the school will be paid for by the state - thanks to the Juneau legislative delegation, which managed to put the new high school into a rare bond debt reimbursement bill in 2001. This was a difficult accomplishment and we owe our delegation thanks for this important assistance.

Forty percent of the money will come from local bond issues approved by voters in 1999 and 2003.

In 1999 we were looking at a school designed for 1,200 students. In 2003 it was scaled back to 1,080 students. The city has sold about $23 million in bonds so far specifically for the new high school. Design is complete. Site work is slated to begin this summer for a 2006 completion date.

Where does the money come from to operate the school once it opens?

Two-thirds of the operating budget for the new high school will also be paid each year by the state. This is money we will receive only because we are building the new school. It is not available to Juneau for any other purpose.

The remaining one-third will come from two sources. More than half is from savings resulting from moving existing school programs out of rented space back into the schools because we will have enough space to do that. The balance is expected to come from a small increase in local contributions allowed by the state solely because we are building the new school.

Opponents frequently argue that we will lose teachers and programs if we build a new school. None of the money for construction and none of the money contained in the estimated operating budget prepared by the Juneau School District would be otherwise available for teachers or programs. We are not sacrificing instruction for a new building. More funding for teachers can only come from increases in the state foundation formula program - something many Alaskans worked on this past session and will continue to work on in future legislative sessions. Increases to the state foundation formula did pass the current Legislature and layoffs of teachers statewide, including in Juneau, were prevented.

If we don't build the new school now, we will end up with JDHS enrollment continuing to climb to and above 2,000 students in a building designed for 1,100. Or, we will build a new high school sometime in the future that will cost Juneau residents far more than we would spend today due to inflation, redesign and new bond costs.

It makes sense to build the new school now while we have the funding available. I urge you to "Just Say No" on May 25.

• Steve Parker is a parent of three children in the Juneau public schools.

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