Board, Assembly seek protocol for planning school construction

Decision made to form a committee

Posted: Wednesday, August 04, 2004

A committee of Juneau Assembly and Juneau School Board members will discuss how the bodies can work together to plan new schools, Mayor Bruce Botelho said Tuesday.

The Assembly held a special meeting at noon with the School Board in the latter's board room. No decisions, other than to form a committee, were made. But participants spoke about the roles the two panels have in planning new schools and renovations.

It's an old issue that has been a point of contention at times, most recently in 2002, when a majority of Assembly members voted to renovate Juneau-Douglas High School before building a school in the Mendenhall Valley, contrary to the School Board's wishes.

State law and the city charter give the Assembly the final say on school construction. The School Board submits designs for approval. City Attorney John Hartle likened it to a landlord-tenant relationship in which the Assembly constructs schools and the School Board determines what takes place in them.

But state law allows assemblies and school boards to agree to other procedures. In Anchorage, for example, its school board places school bonds on the ballot. To do that in Juneau, the city might need to change the charter, Assembly member Marc Wheeler said.

After Juneau voters approved high school projects in 1999, the Assembly and School Board formed a project team to plan the new high school and the JDHS renovation. In 2002 the question was whether the team's decisions were binding or just recommendations to the Assembly.

Hartle recommended that the Assembly and School Board adopt a protocol for working together if voters in October approve a Valley high school for construction.

Assembly member Jeannie Johnson, who has served on the high school project team, said it's needed.

If the Assembly doesn't agree with the School Board on construction issues, she said, "we are painted as against education and against kids. Nothing is further from the truth. We just have a different job to do."

Johnson said she wants to be sure Assembly members have equal information and an equal voice.

But Assembly member Merrill Sanford, a project team member, said the group works "fairly well." School Board member Alan Schorr, who is on the project team, said it engages in frank discussions and has worked well over the past two years.

The issue arose recently because two Assembly members had questioned whether the city should consider a two-part ballot proposition this October to bond for more high school space.

The School Board recommended that voters be asked to bond for a $54 million school at Dimond Park in the Valley. The state would reimburse 70 percent of the cost.

A two-part proposition would let voters approve renovating the Marie Drake building next to JDHS if the Dimond Park proposition failed.

Wheeler said the two-part ballot measure gives the city a fallback position if the Dimond Park proposition fails. The city faces a Dec. 31 deadline to be eligible for state reimbursement.

"This seems like this is our last shot," he said. "We're not going to have reimbursement after this year."

But School Board members said Tuesday they didn't support using the Drake building permanently as part of JDHS, no matter what.

School Board member Andi Story said the campus would be too congested, and the district would lose the extra state operating funds it would garner for having two high schools. The school district couldn't afford to run the Drake/JDHS school, she said.

"To put Drake on the ballot would imply it was fiscally responsible," she said.

If the Dimond Park ballot measure fails, the School Board would rather put the school on the district's multi-year list of future projects. Those projects must be approved by the state Department of Education. In past years, the projects have competed for limited state funds.

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