Guthrie says board needs to listen more to families

On the ballot Juneaus Oct. 7 city election includes races for mayor, two Juneau Assembly seats, five Juneau School Board seats and two ballot propositions. Other Empire coverage includes: Thursday-Friday: Profiles of the other School Board candidates. Sunday: Profiles of two candidates for mayor, plus the League of Women Voters Guide. Monday, Sept. 29: Profile of two District 2 candidates for the Assembly. Tuesday, Sept. 30: Profile of one District 1 candidate for the Assembly.

Posted: Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Sam Guthrie says he offers the Juneau School Board his ability to unite people.

"I think there is a gap that stands between the School Board and the teachers, for example," said Guthrie, one of 12 candidates competing for five open seats on the seven-person board in the Oct. 7 city election. "I don't have any burning issues why I'm running. I think we have a good school system, and we can improve it."

Guthrie, who has two children in the Juneau public schools, said he has high expectations for them.

"I'd like to believe that I have every child's view at heart," he said.

Guthrie said he has attended several School Board meetings as a parent and walked away feeling disenfranchised. Among his concerns was that the Juneau-Douglas High School Day of Silence was intended to highlight the discrimination against gays and lesbians, rather than recognizing all cultures and interest groups.

"I felt the opinions weren't really listened to," he said. When he talks to people during the campaign, they say "they don't feel that they have any input, and that's what I'd hope to change," Guthrie said.

Guthrie extends his concern about an unresponsive school system to the high school.

School district officials anticipate they will face a $3 million deficit in next school year's budget, barring changes in state funding. The teachers don't have a contract for this school year. The next school board is likely going to have to make some hard choices.

"How do you expect to cut $3 million without thinking outside the box?" Guthrie said. "You've got to have an open mind."

The most important subjects to keep intact are reading, writing and arithmetic, he said.

"Those are the things they're being tested on. That's what they need to know," Guthrie said.

The school district has five formal strategies for 2003. The Empire asked candidates to discuss some or all of them. The goals are to increase student achievement, increase Native and minority student success, increase healthy behaviors and attitudes, ensure the best staff and communicate with families better.

Guthrie said communicating with families is important to him.

"I think people need to be in on the process more," he said. "I mean families. I mean parents. What I've seen so far - they're not engaged."

Guthrie said he's very sympathetic to teachers. It's a tough job, he said, and he wants the best for them.

"I don't think we should shy on salary. In order to keep good staff you have to pay them what they're worth."

Guthrie said the success of Native students and other minorities is important, but he doesn't categorize them as separate from other students.

"In my opinion, student success is student success," he said. "You have to look at what's not working and change that. I don't like to categorize."

Some students flourish in Yaakoosge Daakahidi, the alternative high school, he said. But, he added, "In my opinion, you need to bring those students into the mainstream, into the high school," Guthrie said.

Guthrie said he was skeptical of building a high school at Dimond Park in the Mendenhall Valley and is concerned about the operating costs. He said JDHS is "overpopulated," but the Juneau population as a whole isn't growing much.

"I'm concerned about keeping the doors open once it's built," Guthrie said.

"I think we have a good (school) system," Guthrie said. "I think we have a system that's going to be tested with budget cuts in the next two years. To be able to survive well in the budget cuts, we're going to have to be able to come together and work well."

• Eric Fry can be reached at

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