My Turn: Parking prevails over program

Posted: Sunday, July 25, 2004

I believe Juneau School Board Vice President Robert Van Slyke when he says, "The School Board's first priority is getting a new high school built."

I guess that's what has concerned me all along.

It seems to me during the many conversations I've shared with Juneau voters prior to and after the May 25 special election, that student needs are more complex and important than merely building big schools to house them.

This June, Mayor Botelho assembled a focus group to seek common ground among the diverse interests surrounding Juneau's high school needs. The vast majority of those at the table were signed members of the pro-Valley high school group Build It Now! So, I was not surprised when it was announced early during the first meeting that there would be no consideration of Marie Drake options. We were told that the district intended to move district administrative offices, other elementary programs and/or middle school students into the building.

The next day it seemed the School Board members on the focus group had opened up a little as they permitted a token discussion of the educational, programmatic and economic merits of remodeling Marie Drake. I was pleased to imagine the discussion was going somewhere.

Ultimately, the focus group came to consensus on two possible options: 1) Remodel and expand Marie Drake and use the space for freshmen or for other high school academic programs; 2) Build a smaller facility in the Valley, making it deliberately programmatically different, and allowing all families to choose which school they desired their children to attend, regardless of where they live.

Strangely, the discussion recently has shifted to student parking as the hinge-pin for selecting the best high school option. To no one's surprise, the board is recommending a new Valley high school, (with 500 parking spaces!), because it costs too much to build underground parking downtown.

It is disappointing that such an important educational decision has been reduced to such a banal consideration.

If our community desires more convenient parking for themselves or for their children, perhaps the city could be compelled to take on the parking problem. Then, perhaps, our district could tackle important educational concerns, like the dropout rate, instead of where affluent students park their cars.

"The (focus) group also suggested that voters have the option - if they approve a new school - of adding an auditorium, auxiliary gym and other amenities that are of use to the community at large," the Juneau Empire reported on June 13.

So, why does the new Valley high school plan include an industrial kitchen capable of feeding all Juneau's students? The district couldn't afford and discontinued the student lunch program in the 1980s when the state was still flush with oil money!

"The (focus) group suggested that the new school and JDHS offer a comparable core of classes, but that each could offer separate emphases, such as shop or world languages. Students would be able to enroll in either school," the Juneau Empire reported on June 13.

So, why is the board adding an auto and small engine shop, (but no wood shop)? All those facilities already exist at JDHS. With open enrollment, students wanting those classes can attend JDHS.

Though I personally prefer the Marie Drake remodel option for many reasons, I would be pleased to support a new, small, programmatically and fundamentally different high school in the Valley, but only on the condition that it conforms to the recommendations set forth by the mayor's focus group.

It seems the School Board prefers to ignore the mayor's focus group and/or didn't hear the voters on May 25.

• Clay Good has been a JDHS science teacher since 1985 and he was on the mayor's special focus group that met June 10-11.

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