In a four-way race for three seats on the Juneau School Board, voters sent two incumbents back to office Tuesday along with a new face, a local attorney.
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Juneau School Board President Phyllis Carlson, incumbent Andi Story and political newcomer Mark Choate won Tuesday's election with 3,028, 3,841 and 3,393 votes respectively. Chris Thomas came in last with a total of 2,674 votes. At press time, 1,430 ballots were yet to be counted.
Story and Choate said they were pleased with the results, and both agreed the major issue in the race was how to reduce Juneau's high school dropout rate of 40 percent. The key to reducing the rate, Story said, is for educators "to make school more relevant to (students') after-school plans."
Story said she won the race because of the emphasis she has placed on smaller class sizes.
"I think that community really likes low class sizes as a priority for the classroom," she said.
Another issue Story stressed is parental involvement in school decisions.
Both Choate and Story said the now infamous "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case was a deciding factor in the election. The controversial case - which derives from a student being suspended for displaying a sign, "Bong Hits 4 Jesus," at the 2002 Winter Olympic Torch relay - has led some to believe the Juneau School District is trying to suppress free speech. The district, which lost the case, is appealing the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Story and Choate said the case may be why Carlson received the fewest votes out of the winning candidates. Both said they think Carlson was scapegoated by the public because she is the president, and thus spokeswoman of the board. Story said that was regrettable because the suit has less to do with free speech than it has to do with administrators being able to enforce school policy.
"I want to remind people this is about promotional speech, not political speech," Story said.
Carlson could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.
Choate sad pursuing the case is the wrong priority for the School Board, and that the electorate agrees with him.
"I would say 80 percent of the people I talked to were unhappy about the 'Bong Hits 4 Jesus' writ," Choate said. "When I get on the board, I hope to show why we should concentrate on other matters."
Thomas said he was disappointed about losing, but pleased with the number of votes he received. He said he thinks the voters want him to come back next election, and he plans to run again.
"There's a terrible need here," Thomas said. "It's not going to be fixed in one or two years."