Calling foul on this school budget

  • Thursday, March 29, 2018 6:25pm
  • Opinion

Juneau School District Board of Education Director Brian Holst and board member Josh Keaton listen to fellow board member comments during the Fiscal Year 2019 budget discussion at Juneau-Douglas High School Tuesday night. (Gregory Philson | Juneau Empire)

On Tuesday night, March 27, the Board of Education voted to approve a budget that will create, according to district administration, some classes of 40 students or even more. Yes, picture 40 or more students in a seventh-grade language arts class. While some of the school board members may not realize the tremendous impact they caused with Tuesday’s vote, there are several who knowingly created this situation in anticipation of a contract negotiation approaching next year.

I have been a proud Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School teacher for 17 years, and I know a thing or two about middle school children, learning and growth. Therefore, what truly baffles me is, when one studies the MAPS data of the Juneau School District, it is clear that students are making huge gains in middle school. At DZMS, test scores are improving and exceed district averages. Yet despite these successes, the board used this year’s budget and parent-teacher ratio (PTR) increase to hamstring the middle schools, stuff classrooms past capacity, and try to force middle school teachers to bargain their preparatory time against ridiculous class sizes.

When people are bullied by their superiors, they have two options: they can cave in, tuck their chins and succumb to inappropriate pressure. Or, they can lift their chins, stand strong and do what is best for your children: plan exciting projects, incorporate creativity, differentiation, and art into learning, and, most importantly, use their time to connect, protect and assist Juneau’s students.

In these dark times of ALICE drills and fears about safety, when connecting and bonding with students is clearly of significant importance, is this the path the Board of Education wishes to take, that of immense classes down lonely junior high hallways, devoid of community, where individuality and connections are a thing of the past? I cringe to think of the changes that loom now that the school board has made this decision.

Teachers have one year left in their three-year contract, and the board chose to use PTR and the budget as a cudgel to punish middle schools for what many see as a highly successful model, in an effort to force a change to a junior high model. I call foul on this devious setup. The losers in their game of coercion are the children, who, in an already awkward and difficult phase of their lives, will now be faced with large classes and teachers who already have much on their plates.

If you, like me, believe that Juneau’s children deserve safety, connections and a quality middle school education, I urge you to write to the Juneau School Board and let them know this backdoor attempt to alter middle school programming by using 11-to-14-year-olds as pawns is not only inappropriate but disgraceful. We should all strive to do what is best for Juneau’s children, and the board failed them with this decision.

• Amy Lloyd is the mother of two Juneau School District students, a teacher and a strong advocate for public education. The views expressed here are her own.

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