Empire Editorial: Tough choices ahead

  • Sunday, April 24, 2016 1:03am
  • Opinion

If you’re like us, you’ve been focusing your attention on the tough choices being made in the Alaska Capitol over the past 100 days.

Alaska’s $4.1 billion deficit deserves that attention, but some tough choices await us locally, too.

With less state money for schools, police, roads and more, the City and Borough of Juneau will have more cost-cutting decisions to make.

Last week, the Assembly and Juneau Board of Education got our attention with a decision to spend up to $300,000 to hire an outside consultant for a “facility master plan.”

Now, if you don’t know anything about the situation, it sounds outrageous: Why would the CBJ, in a time when government funding is drying up, spend $300,000?

In our view, this makes sense. In fact, we see no other option.

This “facility master plan” is code written in jargon. It’s a study to determine whether Juneau has too many schools.

We know that school enrollment is on a long-term downward slide in Juneau. The city’s population is older; there are fewer school-aged children.

It might make sense to close a school, and hiring a consultant makes sense ─ if the city is prepared to act on the consultant’s recommendation.

Thanks to previous cuts, the school district no longer has the in-house expertise needed for a study of this kind. Furthermore, closing a school is a difficult and painful decision that needs an impartial analysis.

If such decisions were made in-house, high emotions and conflicting interests would likely take precedence over pragmatic thinking.

Our view is that an outside study makes sense, but Juneauites should be prepared for bad news. If the analysis reveals that we have too many schools for our students, we must be prepared for the idea that our local school is the one that will close.

We don’t like the idea of losing a local school, but if we are given the choice between funding buildings or teachers, we know which option we’ll favor.

A school closure is a difficult decision, but it’s one we should begin to consider while options still exist.

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