Thunder Mountain High School boys’ basketball coach John Blasco and Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé coach Robert Casperson talk following the final local game between the two schools on Feb. 24, due to a consolidation plan taking effect during the coming school year. Blasco said Monday he is stepping down with the intent of letting Casperson coach the consolidated team. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)

Thunder Mountain High School boys’ basketball coach John Blasco and Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé coach Robert Casperson talk following the final local game between the two schools on Feb. 24, due to a consolidation plan taking effect during the coming school year. Blasco said Monday he is stepping down with the intent of letting Casperson coach the consolidated team. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)

Juneau School District coaches and advisors being released due to consolidation, will have to reapply for jobs

Preference will be given to “successful incumbents” and certified staff, according to district letter.

Virtually all coaches and advisors in the Juneau School District are being dismissed and told to reapply for their jobs due to the consolidation plan scheduled to take effect July 1, with preference in rehiring given to certified staff members such as teachers, according to a letter sent to them last week.

“At the conclusion of the current school year, all coaches and advisors of school-based activities will be released from their contracts,” Lyle Melkerson, the district’s director of human resources, wrote in the May 2 letter. The letter adds “I want to emphasize that this action is a procedural step in the consolidation process and not a reflection on your performance or value to our district.”

An end-of-year review process is standard for coaches and advisors. But this year’s process goes beyond that due to the broad impact of consolidation on the district’s programs.

“The purpose for releasing all extra duty positions at the end of this year is to provide all coaches and advisors from both high schools and middle schools the opportunity to apply for the positions in the unified schools for next year,” wrote Kristin Bartlett, the district’s chief of staff, in an email to the Empire on Tuesday morning.

The district reached a formal agreement with the Juneau Education Association on the process of hiring coaches and advisors for the consolidated schools, according to Melkerson. Preference in rehiring for the consolidated middle and high schools will be given to “successful incumbents, as noted in the evaluation process,” with certified staff getting priority among successful incumbents.

“If two successful certified incumbents apply for the same position, administration will assign the position,” Melkerson wrote.

The unified teams — Huskies Football and Huskies Cheer — will not be affected since they “have already gone through a formalized reorganization/unification process,” he noted.

Among the people who won’t return next school year is John Blasco, named 4A Boys Coach of the Year after taking the Thunder Mountain High School boys basketball team to the state title game, who said in an interview Monday he is departing voluntarily. Blasco, who is not a certified teacher for the district, said he’s been thinking recently about stepping away from coaching after 15 years, at least for a time, but it might not have happened as quickly without the consolidation realignment.

“I think I was kind of hoping that some of my alumni coaches that have been helpful in the last couple of years would have interest in taking over the program soon,” he said. “I don’t know if it would have been immediate or not, but it was something that was being discussed.”

Blasco said he has already talked with Robert Casperson, the boys basketball coach at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé, as well as the TMHS players who will be attending JDHS next year about the transition.

“I’ve been communicating with the kids and the parents, and I was handing over contact information and everything to coach Caspersen so he could connect with them to start working them in to their program,” he said. “We’re still running open gyms at Thunder Mountain. So is Juneau-Douglas, so that we give the kids as much playing opportunity as possible. I was at the gym last week with the guys and I told them ‘Don’t stop calling us you know, we’re here to be there for you. We’ll get in the gym when we can with you and be helpful with their individual development.’”

The consolidation is occurring due to a budget deficit that earlier this year was projected at nearly $10 million in an operating budget of roughly $75 million, with declining enrollment and flat state funding among the key factors cited for the shortfall. The budget passed by the school board for next year also eliminates about 12% of staff as listed at the beginning of the year, however the actual figure may be less due to the resignation of about three dozen employees since January and the possibility state lawmakers will approve an increase in per-student funding.

“Hiring of coaches and advisors will be subject to the availability of positions and the needs of our organization,” Melkerson wrote. “However, we will make every effort to accommodate qualified individuals who wish to continue their service with us.”

Dwayne Duskin Jr., hired as the track and field coach at TMHS in 2019, said “my plan is to apply for a lesser role next year” on the assumption existing JDHS coaches will get preferences for head coaching jobs.

“I figured if I wanted to stay involved I should just aim for a lesser role and see how it all turns out,” he said.

Duskin said he wasn’t interested in trying to stay at Thunder Mountain as a coach when it becomes middle school next year since he doesn’t have coaching experience at that level — plus he wants to continue working with the athletes he’s already gotten to know. One of his concerns about the consolidation is the impact it will have on the athletes since there will be fewer varsity teams and thus spots open.

“There are some athletes who may not be at the top of the performance list, so to speak, with the combination of both schools,” he said. “So I’m just wondering what the plans are for reaching those athletes that may not be as competitive, but still want to be on the team.”

A TMHS head coach hoping to stay in that role at JDHS is Josiah Loseby, the swim/dive coach for the Falcons. If that doesn’t work out “I would like to be in an assistant coach role to, again, just be there to continue working with the kids, and being somebody for them to help them get as positive an experience as possible.”

However, Loseby said he’s also among the people questioning if the district needed to rush into the consolidation plan as quickly as it did, given the irreversible impacts it will have on so many staff and students.

“I understood the time constraints that were on them,” he said. “I understood that ultimately they need to have a balanced budget…(But) I think that there were alternative solutions that were presented, but weren’t given accurate or legitimate vetting. And I don’t think the decision that was made was really given time or accurate vetting either. You can see the surface-level repercussions of things, but there’s so many inner workings and smaller things that have a huge impact too on future budget things, on student outcomes, on student mental health, and just overall family engagement and family retention.”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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