Community offers varied opinions at school forum

Participants discuss pros, cons of building second high school in the Valley

Posted: Friday, September 24, 2004

Some members of the community say a second high school will provide a higher quality education, while others questioned if the new facility will address dropout rates, at a school district forum Thursday at Riverbend Elementary School.

About 20 people attended the forum on two bond propositions on the Oct. 5 election ballot.

The second high school will cost taxpayers $51 per $100,000 of assessed property value, officials said.

A few extra dollars is worth a smaller state-of-the-art facility, said Jackie Stewart, whose 9-year-old son, Avery, attends Auke Bay Elementary.

"My kid is worth that," Stewart said. "I'd like him to have a really good environment."

Proposition 1 asks voters to decide on a $54 million second high school at Dimond Park in the Mendenhall Valley. The second proposition asks if voters want to spend $18.2 million in bonds approved by voters in 1999. The money, originally intended for the second high school, would go toward maintenance projects district-wide.

Some audience members wanted to know whether overcrowding at the high school affects the dropout rate, which averages 6 percent a year. Superintendent Peggy Cowan could not say, but said some students perform better academically in a smaller school setting.

The second high school is expected to have 733 students if it opens in the fall of 2008. That same year, 1,024 are expected to attend Juneau-Douglas High School downtown.

Although the second school will have fewer students, the teacher-to-student ratio will remain 26:1. Juneau resident Barbara Bachmeier questioned the purpose of building a smaller school if it does not reduce the ratio.

There is a difference between smaller class sizes and a smaller learning environment, said Assistant Superintendent For Instruction Bernie Sorenson. The district has learned that students want more interaction with adults, and a smaller school affords that opportunity, she said.

Clarke Damon of Juneau criticized officials about the lack of vocational education classes, including commercial fishing. Fewer students would drop out if they could acquire skills which led to a profession soon after high school, he said.

Dividing the sports teams has been a major concern in the community, Cowan said. Juneau can support two teams, she said.

"We've got an affluent community of 31,000, and I find it hard to believe we couldn't find two sports teams," said parent Patrick Cuddihy.

• Tara Sidor can be reached at

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