Juneau School District administrators and board members review the updated budget for the current fiscal year during a Board of Education meeting April 16 at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)

My Turn: School board recall is about more than ‘angry moms set on being vengeful’

It’s time to set the record straight about the school board recall. Many community members object to the recall because they feel that board members are being punished for previous members’ actions and no one else will run. There are others who believe the recall petitioners are simply a group of angry moms set on being vengeful. Neither punishment nor vengeance is the driver for the recall — it’s all about accountability.

The petitioners happen to be part of a larger group of community members concerned with the board’s blatant disregard for their own board policies, their lack of understanding of board concepts and roles, community engagement, the budget, and school closure procedures. The petitioners limited the recall to President Deedie Sorensen and Vice President Emil Mackey, not to single them out for their consolidation vote, but because the law is clear who can and cannot be recalled. A recall petition can only be issued so long as the applications are not submitted during the first 120 days of the term of office or within 180 of the end of a term of office per Alaska State Statutes AS 26.29.240-29.26.360 With two newly elected board members and Amber Frommherz, Will Muldoon and Elizabeth Siddon up for election in October, Sorensen and Mackey were the only two eligible for recall.

Even though collecting signatures is tedious, the needs of the students and the overall health of our district should not be forced to keep school board members who have demonstrated that they do not understand how to manage long-term planning and budgeting focused on student achievement and district success. Students, district staff and community members shouldn’t have to wait until 2026 to have student-focused board members.

The board has used the excuse of flat funding and student enrollment decline as the reasons for the need to consolidate, but five of the seven board members have known about these budget issues for years. For instance, Mackey was part of the board that decided to hire an independent consultant to address those exact concerns in 2017. And yet the board remained silent and even acted shocked by the announcement of the deficit in January 2024. If these same board members understood the budget why didn’t they do something sooner? Why did they wait until the spring semester to make the official announcement when they were first presented with a multi-million dollar deficit at the beginning of the school year? Where was the transition plan to help students and teachers navigate these drastic changes?

That means 71% of the board has been aware of the looming budget since 2021 and rather than engage the community they hid key details and/or misunderstood important aspects of the budget and their impacts on students. Community members are also confused about the budget process and how it could go from a few million to $9 million in debt, to no longer needing a loan from CBJ and a surplus all within a matter of weeks. How many accounting errors were in the original FY24 budget? That lack of transparency will now close three buildings shifting the costs from the district to community members. These cost-saving measures are overcrowding our schools, have reduced our teaching and support staff to its bare minimum, and are raising our property taxes. The board’s inability to take responsibility throughout this process is further proof that the community needs people on the school board who are not afraid to do the job of managing the district.

As the head of the district, they are responsible for giving the superintendent instructions, long-term planning for site management and staffing as they relate to school climate, and making sure the budget is balanced to meet the needs of students. Addressing student/teacher impacts when balancing a budget requires difficult decisions. A recall petition gives the community a voice. A successful recall vote would give the community an opportunity to elect board members that value transparency and community engagement, especially when it comes to the unpopular and difficult decisions that impact students throughout the district. The community shouldn’t have to wait an additional two years hoping the existing board members will change. That’s what got us here in the first place.

• Shannon Kelly is vice chair of Community Advocates for Responsible Education.

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