Juneau School Board votes to consolidate schools

Juneau School District Superintendent Frank Hauser and finance consultant Lisa Pearce listen to speakers at a school board meeting on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. (Katie Anastas/KTOO)

The Juneau School Board has approved a plan that will put seventh and eighth grades at Thunder Mountain High School and ninth through twelfth grades at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé. 

It’s an initial step in addressing the district’s $9.7 million budget deficit for next year, caused by dropping enrollment, an end to one-time state funding and per-student state funding that hasn’t kept up with inflation.

The district expects to save more than $2.6 million in staffing and $370,000 in maintenance costs. The plan will let the district close three buildings: the district office, Floyd Dryden Middle School and the Marie Drake building, which houses the alternative high school and Montessori Borealis. 

At a packed school board meeting on Thursday — with more than 500 others watching online — Juneau Education Association president Chris Heidemann said flat funding from the state was the main cause of deficits in districts across the state.

“Every educator that is laid off this year, in Juneau and across the state, can draw a direct line from their pink slip to the governor’s office,” he said.

Juneau Education Association President Chris Heidemann speaks at a school board meeting on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. (Katie Anastas/KTOO)

District leaders say the plan will let high school activities stay on the same schedule. It also provides career and technical education classes to all high school grade levels, a chief concern for many Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé students.

“It really does increase the offerings for all 9-12 students,” Hauser said about CTE classes.

Having middle school at Thunder Mountain will also let many students continue walking to school, according to the district, and it keeps both middle schoolers and high schoolers close to city pools. The Thunder Mountain campus is next to the Dimond Park Aquatic Center, and Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé is next to the Augustus Brown Pool.

Students at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé rallied in support of the model on Tuesday, saying they wanted the four high school grades to stay together at a campus with trades classrooms.

Junior Sophia Percy said she knows she wants to go to college. But she told the school board on Thursday that not all students do.

“Does the student who wants to be a welder or a carpenter or to work at the mine not deserve the resources and support that I get? Is their path in life less important or less respectable than mine?” she asked.

Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé students attend a school board meeting on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. (Katie Anastas/KTOO)

Thunder Mountain High School students spoke against combining the high schools at all, saying that they enjoy being able to choose between two high schools with distinct climates. 

“I take pride in the fact that we are a community that believes in individualized education, that fewer than 600 students per school is a pleasant number for optimal education,” said Thunder Mountain senior Jade Hicks.

The board at first voted the plan down after four hours of public comment and more than two hours of discussion. But at 12:30 in the morning, after taking a recess, they quickly approved it with specifications for two optional programs: moving the Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi alternative high school to the Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School building and leaving the Tlingit Culture, Language and Literacy program at Harborview Elementary.

The motion passed, with members David Noon and Britteny Cioni-Haywood voting no.

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