Students quiz School Board, city hopefuls

Candidates address kids' concerns, including the amount of homework

Posted: Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Although most of them haven't reached voting age, Juneau-Douglas High School students had many questions for the Juneau Assembly and School Board candidates.

In the past, only some social studies classes had a chance to talk to some candidates, said Alex Nelson, a student body vice president who organized the forum. This year, all of the students met the School Board and Assembly candidates.

Gary Lehnhart, a government and law teacher at the high school, said he suggested the students organize a large-scale forum because it is important for them to meet people whose decisions will affect their lives.

And the candidates tried to address the students' problems, including the amount of homework.

School Board candidate Sean O'Brien, who has five children ages from 6 to 19, said the amount of homework depends on what classes students take. He said if elected, he will convince the school district to provide more staff to help students select classes.

School Board candidate Mike Ford, a former legal counsel for the Alaska Legislature, said he would focus on lowering the student-teacher ratio and developing a wide range of curricula at the new high school in the Mendenhall Valley.

Margo Waring, another School Board candidate, said she noticed how serious the school's dropout rate was when she spoke to the freshmen and seniors.

"The small number in the senior year reflected our dropout rate problem," said Waring, who was on a task force that studied the profiles of dropout students and made recommendations to the district last year.

The students asked Assembly candidates about issues ranging from how to engage students in public policies to whether the city should build a dance studio.

Both District 2 candidates, Jonathan Anderson and Andrew Green, support the second crossing but they cannot agree on what the city should do on the cruise ship industry.

Anderson, director of University of Alaska Southeast public administration master's program, said the city should limit the growth. "We don't want Gastineau Channel to become the parking lot of cruise ships," Anderson said.

Green, port manager of Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska, said the city should accommodate cruise ships instead of eliminating them.

District 1 candidates Merrill Sanford and Joan Cahill showed their differences in their views about building a road out of Juneau.

Sanford, a retired firefighter who is finishing his first term on the Assembly, said he supports a road. Cahill, communications specialist for Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., said it is the people's decision.

At-large candidate Mara Early, an adviser to the JDHS Student Council, said she would create internship programs in government and business for students.

At-large candidate Bob Doll, former ferry system director, was out of town because of death of a family member. Former Deputy Mayor Jim Powell represented Doll.

A student on the school dance team asked if it would be possible for the city to build a dance studio. She said the school's dance studio is often booked and it costs $10 to use the dance studio at The JRC Alaska Club.

Powell suggested that the students who are interested in the project could work with Doll and other adults to create a dance studio, as a group of students had done in creating the city's skateboarding park.

David Summers, another at-large candidate, said he would engage students in his policy-making process.

All of the three at-large candidates said they oppose salmon farming.

High school students care about how the candidates present themselves.

"Cahill would stand up and talk to us. Sanford just sat there. You couldn't even see him," said senior Blake Stauffer, of Lehnhart's government class.

Devon Kibby, another senior, found Sanford knowledgeable about city issues.

"He knows what's going on," Kibby said. "He doesn't dumb things down."

Jessy Post, a senior, said the candidates' forum helped her choose among candidates.

"I didn't even know who the candidates were before the forum. Now I know whom I want to vote for," she said.

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.



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