Tough part comes next - finding a school solution

Empire editorial

Posted: Sunday, May 30, 2004

Juneau Students First members, who opposed the second high school, need to make sure they don't do what some school supporters predicted: Disappear.

More than a few people were surprised by the outcome of Tuesday's election that effectively halted construction of a new high school at Dimond Park. The margin of victory was slender - as of Friday afternoon, just 51.3 percent of the voters approved the proposition that killed the $63 million project. But the numbers don't tell just how tortured a decision this was for some people. A few people who are regular voters said they didn't go to the polls this time, simply because they couldn't decide. Others said they didn't decide which way they'd vote until shortly before they walked into the election booth.

This was a tough election for all involved. But it's going to get harder, because the city's education problems have not gone away, and after a very divisive election, the town needs to come together and forge a solution.

That's why it's especially important that Juneau Students First members, who succeeded in halting the second school, now need to help come up with solutions as to where to house high school students, how to deal with the Juneau-Douglas High School's formidable dropout rate, how to improve the student-teacher ratio and other problems. Sure, the Juneau School Board ultimately must make the final decisions on any plans. But it had already come up with its own answer for the district's needs. It's one thing to knock down a project, and quite another matter - as this election proved - to build consensus and move it forward. Juneau Students First members are going to have to do exactly that.

Some have feared that the bitterness created by this election, and the loss of years of hard work to build a second high school, will paralyze the city and prevent movement on school issues. After all, those in the school district and on the board are the very people who put the most time into planning another campus. The very people who have the most power to craft other solutions are likely feeling the deepest disappointment this week. But it's important to remember that they put countless hours into this project because they care about education. They may need a short break, but it's doubtful they're going to turn their backs on students' needs now.

Mayor Bruce Botelho has called a joint meeting of the Juneau Assembly and the School Board on Wednesday to start figuring out where to go next on the high school. The mayor is going to need to play a pivotal role in bringing the different sides together and setting up a process that allows the city to move forward on school issues. For proponents and opponents of the second school, setting aside philosophical differences, resentment of the other side and even bitterness is going to be tough, but it needs to be done for the sake of Juneau's high school students.

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