David Noon: Juneau Board of Education Candidate
Occupation: Professor, University of Alaska Southeast
Bio shared by candidate: “I grew up in Roanoke, Virginia, and attended college at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, where I earned a B.A. in 1992 with a double major in English and History. After completing a doctorate in American Studies at the University of Minnesota, I was fortunate to be hired at UAS to teach US History in 2002. Juneau has been my home ever since. I have enjoyed the most long-lasting and important friendships of my life here; my children were born and raised by two educators in this loving and supportive community; and I expect to spend my remaining years hiking/running Juneau’s trails, learning from my students, and tending to the complicated needs of the felines with whom my kids and I continue to surround ourselves.”
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Why do you want to be a member of the Juneau Board of Education?
Well it’s funny because almost everyone that I have told that I’m running for the board responds with some combination of “are you insane?” and “thanks for doing it.” So it’s going to be really difficult.
There’s no question that the district is in a terrible position financially, we’ve got a deficit in the budget and there are no clear paths toward resolving it. It will be a really difficult moment to be on the school board — but that is part of the appeal.
As perverse as that sounds, I think that the board needs new faces — that’s always the case with any institution — so I think that I’m excited by the fact that there are some folks in this race who have been in the community for a long time, because I have a lot of experience with public service, I have a lot of experience with university governance.
I think that I’ve got some skills and some experience, and I’ve got the capacity to learn if I’m fortunate enough to get on the board. I’ve got kids in the school district still, I’ve had amazing experiences throughout all their years in the district. I think that I’m motivated as well by an interest in supporting the people who have ushered my kids through their education.
Describe your background and knowledge of the Juneau School District and what you think the strengths and weaknesses of it are based on those experiences.
My background is entirely in the university. I’ve been teaching at UAS (University of Alaska Southeast) for 21 years, and I’ve got a good bit of experience with university leadership. I’ve served as faculty senate president, I sat on the statewide faculty alliance for a number of years and I’ve given a lot of my time to serving that institution.
I think that I’m at a point in my career where I am able to give my time outside the university and it’s part of what is motivating me. My kids have been in the public schools from the start and our experiences have been almost universally positive. The strengths of the district have always been the teachers and the educators, the staff has always been very caring.
I think the strength of the district resides largely in the people who are there every day educating and taking care of the kids. The weaknesses have almost entirely been imposed upon the district by a legislature that has underfunded schools throughout Alaska for years, and most recently by an administration that has openly attacked public education.
That’s created an additional layer of stress for our educators who have been pushed to the breaking point, and we are experiencing a lot of difficulty with retaining and recruiting teachers. That’s not the fault of anyone in the district itself — there’s always room for improving the district — but that’s not the reason that our teachers are suffering from. I think that it’s a constitutional problem that our state government has not adequately funded public education and that has created some real stressors that I think have to be resolved.
What aspects of student learning and wellness do you think the school board needs to better address?
This has been a difficult time for young people. The pandemic, obviously, there are lots of other sorts of things that have been going on in our community in our society more broadly that I think have certainly created some mental health needs that could obviously be addressed with more services.
I think that as far as student learning is concerned, there’s some real good signs over the years if you look at graduation data within the school district. There’s some really encouraging signs in terms of meeting our most important obligation, which is getting students all the way through to high school graduation.
There have been a lot of standardized tests that have been introduced over the years, some of them are relatively recent, and those are those useful to a certain extent in indicating where there might be some trouble spots. But again, these are things that all require resources that have not been forthcoming.
I want to make this point very clearly — the role of the school board is not to micromanage what happens in the classroom. That is not our job. The job of the school board is not to come in and say “teachers need to be doing this in the classroom” because we are not professional educators. Many of us are bright, many of us have experience in education, but that’s not our job. Our teachers have been trained, they’re professionals, they deserve the respect that will allow them to do their jobs.
Given the tight level of funding provided to the Juneau district — and districts across the state — in recent years from the state of Alaska, how do you feel Juneau can most effectively use the money it is getting?
That’s tough. I mean, almost 90% of the district’s budget is personnel, and the vast majority of that funding goes directly to instructional activities. So that’s the proportion that I would support. I think that that’s where the money should go. The money should go to the people who are educating, and the money should be primarily focused on the classroom and the needs that our kids have.
I think that we are effectively prioritizing those things. The problem is we don’t have a large enough pool of resources. We’re maxed out as far as municipal support. The problem that we face is that we live in a state where support for education, at least from those elected to represent the people of the state, hasn’t been hasn’t been adequate.
If I’m on the school board one of our responsibilities is to look over the budget and take a fine, granular look at what’s going on. There’s always room for conversation about whether we should be funding that. So I’m not going to be complacent and say that what we’re doing now is exactly right. But I think that, broadly, the priorities of the district are adequately distributed. We just need more distribution from those outside.
Do you think consolidation or cutting positions is necessary in the coming years in order to balance the district’s budget if state funding is not substantially increased and or enrollment continues to decrease?
Again, almost 90% of our budget is personnel, so there is no question that if we have to make more cuts it’s going to come at the expense of positions that are badly needed to serve our students. These cuts are not only going to be felt by the people whose positions are eliminated, the impact is going to be on the kids. They’re the ones who are going to suffer the most from that.
So far as consolidation goes, I don’t know enough about the economics of that. I can say that in 2019, when we had the university’s crisis when the (Gov. Mike) Dunleavy administration proposed what would have been extinction-level cuts to the university system, there was conversation about consolidating, and closing down buildings and shattering programs.
One of the things that we learned was that the promised or proposed savings that would come from consolidating programs and eliminating possibly campuses entirely weren’t really there. I’m not averse to looking at creative solutions that have the effect of preventing us from cutting staff and impacting education. I’m all for it.
In principle, I just know from my experience with the university there’s often a lot of breezy conversation from 50,000 feet above the ground about how “oh, we can do this, we can do that,” but I would have to see very clear evidence as a member of the board that those savings would be real.
Are there any substantial matters that we didn’t get around to talking about that you think is pertinent to discuss?
I’ll just say as far as decisions to be made on the board there are going to be a lot of options, but I don’t think any of them are going to be really pleasant.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (651) 528-1807.