Schorr offers years of school board experience

Posted: Friday, September 26, 2003

Alan Schorr, who has continuously served on the Juneau School Board since 1991, said he brings experience as a policy-maker to the position.

He's one of 12 candidates for five open seats on the board.

Schorr has been on the board during the construction of Riverbend Elementary School and Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School and the renovation of Juneau-Douglas High School. He hopes to see the planned high school at Dimond Park brought to completion.

"The principal reason I'm running is you have to have some continuity and some experienced people working on the project team," he said, referring to the group of district and city officials planning the school. "It's a very challenging process that involves give and take between the school board and the Assembly."

Five of the school board's seven seats are open this year.

"Having only two experienced members of the school board at this critical time of building a high school would be disastrous," Schorr said.

To balance the budget this school year, the school board had to cut about $1.75 million from its proposed spending. Cuts included some teaching positions, early buses home for kindergartners and after-school "activity" buses.

Schorr described the Juneau schools as a good system with shortcomings.

"It's easy to see shortcomings in the system because there are (shortcomings)," Schorr said. "The shortcomings in some ways are becoming more apparent and more in number because of the budget trend that is developing now and down the road."

"There are all these implications you don't think of when making decisions such as ending activities buses. The district has tried to make every effort to ameliorate the situation, but still you have to make these decisions that have a negative impact on families."

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 yet for this school year. The next school board is likely going to have to make some hard choices.

Schorr said part of the solution is to get more money from the Legislature. But with nearly 90 percent of the district's budget taken up by salaries and benefits, staff cuts are the only way to reduce the budget, he said.

"There are just going to be some unpleasant cuts possibly down the road," he 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.

"The main thing that makes the system good is the people who teach in the classroom," he said. "... If you have a great teacher, it can be a great system. If you have a lousy teacher, it can be a lousy system for that child. You have to recruit the best and the brightest who want to go into teaching."

The school board needs to set a high level of academic expectations, Schorr said.

"That's hard to monitor. We want children to be challenged. We've made efforts to have a more rigorous curriculum. We want teachers to support that kind of rigor and standards."

Schorr said the district should be more aggressive and wide-ranging in its recruitment of new teachers.

He said the district has put a lot of effort into closing the achievement gap between Natives and non-Native students in test scores and graduation rates, but the gap has persisted. Like other board members, Schorr was pleased to see a recent report showing good results from Tlingit-oriented classrooms for young children at Harborview Elementary School downtown. The board should consider expanding the program and adding resources to the programs for students who struggle with English, he said.

• Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.



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