2 School Board members opt out

Frustration, lack of community support contribute to decisions

Posted: Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Expressing disappointment and frustration, Juneau School Board members Carolyn Spalding and Deana Darnall say they will not seek re-election now that their three-year terms are expiring.

The 10-day filing period for the Oct. 1 municipal election began Monday and will end on Thursday, Aug. 22. As of midday today, no one had filed to run for the two vacant School Board positions, according to the city clerk's office.

Spalding and Darnall said in interviews they felt the experience on the School Board was not the best use of their time, that the board's effectiveness did not meet their expectations, and that the board was not well supported by the community.

"I didn't feel like staff in the district and the community at large, the parents and students, really wanted us to be involved in exploring issues and trying to change things," Spalding said. "The lack of support and recognition of board responsibility by some Assembly members compounded my frustration with serving on the board."

Spalding was referring to a conflict in May when the School Board withdrew in frustration from a joint city-schools team planning a new high school in the Mendenhall Valley and the renovation of Juneau-Douglas High School.

The Assembly voted to award a contract to renovate the high school, against the recommendation of the majority of the city-school team, after the low bid came in higher than expected. The School Board wanted to renovate JDHS after the second high school was built, to alleviate overcrowding and minimize the effect of construction on students at JDHS.

"I had envisioned that the School Board was an elected body that was interested in doing what was best for kids. I was naive, the board was (more involved in) playing politics," Darnall said. "There are definitely some Assemblymen who are supportive of education, but that little blow-up at the end made it more about politics, not about kids."

Ken Koelsch, School Board liaison on the Assembly, said the panel was never dismissive toward the School Board.

"We definitely respected the other elected body. We not only funded the School Board's budget to the max but this year we went above it," he said. The conflict between the board and the Assembly "was more of a personality than an organizational issue."

Schools Superintendent Gary Bader said the low level of community participation at School Board meetings is a sign of satisfaction.

"The district has made some accomplishments (during the last three years) in terms of students' achievement, school climate and addressing some facility issues," Bader said in response to Spalding's comments. "They just may not match Carolyn's high level of expectation."

Board President Mary Becker agreed with Bader, saying many parents are involved "locally" at their children's schools. The board has been effective and will only get more so, she said.

"We can't micromanage everything; it is time-consuming. That is why we need parents, staff and students," she said. "We have taken steps to be more involved, but not near as much as we should be."

Spalding said some lack of community response might be due to satisfaction, but parents she talked to felt their comments at School Board meetings "didn't go anywhere."

Spalding and Darnall were involved in a group that studied school climate, which refers partly to the way students treat each other. It dealt with issues such as bullying. Spalding said the progress of the group's work moved too slowly.

"I found it very hard to move anything forward in the district that would involve change," Spalding said.

When asked to respond to the outgoing board members' comments about the board's effectiveness, Alan Schorr, the board's longest-standing member, said, "I don't want to get into it."

Darnall and Spalding said they do not plan to seek elected office again. Becker said she hoped both remained active on educational issues.

"It might be easier to get things done as a community member bringing things to the board," Darnall said. "It tends to be a reactive not a proactive group."

In addition to Darnall's and Spalding's seats, School Board member Stan Ridgeway's seat also may become vacant if he wins his bid for the Assembly. In that case, according to state and city law, the School Board will appoint a new member, and the seat would be open for next fall's election.

Darnall expressed disappointment that no one had filed to run so far, saying it had been a problem for a few years. In 2001 two incumbents ran unopposed.

"Last year I made dozens of calls to people I thought would be effective. It just didn't happen," she said. "I would encourage anyone to make a stab at it. I'm glad that I did it. It needs a personality of somebody who can sway the vote."

Julia O'Malley can be reached at jomalley@juneauempire.com.

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