Juneau has a highly transient population, with more people arriving by boat or ferry than by stork. Despite periodic downturns, our population has steadily increased. Juneau-Douglas High School has a long-standing reputation for being too big and too overcrowded. There are more people inside the walls of our high school than in many Alaskan towns. Overcrowding is not always visible because an open campus relieves the appearance of congestion by allowing students to be out in the community during school hours.
Community planning efforts to deal with current and future high school facility needs have taken place since the mid-1990s. Through a series of public meetings and votes on assorted options and configurations, a majority of participating Juneau residents expressed a clear preference for two comparable high schools, but chose to wait until we could obtain at least 50 percent funding from the state. When 60 and 70 percent state funding became available, voters approved a Valley high school that would address current needs and allow for future growth. This level of state funding is not expected to be available again for many years.
Opponents of the Valley high school mounted a successful ballot initiative effort last spring to prevent its construction. They used a number of arguments, including criticism of the size and design of the school, questioning school district financial management, and the fear of potential budget cuts caused by our statewide financial disarray and inadequate funding of education.
Following the vote in May, initiative supporters suggested the options of a smaller second high school or enlarging and attaching the Marie Drake building to JDHS. Independent accounting and engineering reports found construction of the smaller Valley high school to be the economically sound choice. The School Board and Assembly have unanimously recommended this option to the voters for our last effort to meet Juneau's educational infrastructure needs using 70 percent state funding that will expire at the end of this year.
It's time for the various factions in this dispute to accept a compromise, make use of the money available to build the long-overdue second high school, use the money from previously sold bonds to repair and bring older schools into Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, and move on to address other needs in our community.
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