The Juneau Board of Education debates a school district consolidation plan after midnight Wednesday, March 13, near the end of an eight-hour meeting at the Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé auditorium. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)

The Juneau Board of Education debates a school district consolidation plan after midnight Wednesday, March 13, near the end of an eight-hour meeting at the Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé auditorium. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)

My Turn: School district’s problems aren’t on shoulders of two board members targeted for recall

I urge folks not to sign the petition to recall the school board officers. Recalls waste city resources and should be a last resort in cases of flagrant law breaking, moral depravity and blatant disregard to the well being of the community. Failure to believe population trend predictions that have been acerbated by lack of childcare and housing for young families, or failure to envision the abdication of responsible school funding by the State of Alaska, are not mistakes warranting a recall.

School board members oversee the budget by reviewing the information provided by the district employees hired to manage finances and then checking that information against the audit. Until an audit indicates otherwise, they have no reason to expect that the superintendent and financial director either have deliberately provided misleading financial reports or do not have the skills needed to manage a complicated budgeting process.

This board adopted a budget that was presented as balanced. They recommended this budget to the Assembly. While the Assembly does not have line-item control over the school budget, they do control the amount of funding. Because they have control of the funding amount, they have the ability to influence the shape of the budget. Budget problems in the schools are shared with the city as a whole.

The sponsors of the recall petition, even in retrospect, do not suggest specific actions the school board leadership could have taken to prevent the need to close schools. Would it have been better to close schools last year, or would it have been better to lay off teachers and increase class size? Maybe maintenance and custodial staff could have been laid off and parents could volunteer to clean classrooms and shovel snow. The truth is Juneau’s population has decreased, perhaps more than predicted, and the state has decided to abrogate its responsibility to fund schools. Time would be better spent trying to help students and their parents adjust to changed circumstances than mire the community in a recall election for a hard job that doesn’t have long lines of candidates to begin with.

Of course board members were expressing worries about funding before they took action. They were finding it difficult to believe that the Legislature and Alaska’s governor would continue to fund schools at a level that has resulted in deterioration of public education in Alaska. The lack of funding and an adequate teacher retirement system has created a crisis for Juneau and other Alaska communities.

The community chose to build new schools even though a population decline was predicted. The situation faced by the school district does not ride on the the shoulders of two school board members. Everyone in the community who tried to make hard decisions with imperfect information shares responsibility. If I am asked to sign a recall petition, my answer will be, “No, I would rather concentrate community efforts on looking forward for solutions to provide the best possible education.”

• Jean Ann Alter is a former member and president of the Juneau Board of Education, and a former teacher and Department of Education program manager.

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