Juneau School Board decides to keep previously approved school closure plan

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The Juneau School Board meets in the auditorium of Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé on Tuesday, March 12, 2024. (Clarise Larson/KTOO)

The Juneau School Board voted Tuesday night to stick with its previously adopted school closure plan. It puts seventh and eighth grades at Thunder Mountain High School’s campus and ninth through 12th grades at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé. 

Last week, board member Amber Frommherz proposed that the board revisit that plan and look more deeply into a model that would keep two high schools open. She proposed putting eighth through 12th graders at the two high school campuses and closing the Marie Drake building and either Kax̱dig̱oowu Héen Elementary or Mendenhall River Community School.

On Tuesday night, Frommherz said her model would bring the district more state funding because the state’s funding formula gives more money to smaller schools. 

“There’s a configuration model out there that could bring in more revenue, that would save state funding,” she told the board. “That was my concern.”

Frommherz’s presentation focused on preserving state funding, not on cutting expenses. Board member Emil Mackey said it was important to consider the long-term savings that come with the approved model.

“Bringing more revenue isn’t the same as saving enough money, because shutting down the buildings saves us in maintenance, repair and utilities,” he said. “There’s a difference between chasing money from the state and balancing the budget on expenditures and revenue.”

High school principals outlined several scheduling challenges that would come with Frommherz’s model, including staggering lunchtimes for older and younger students and sharing amenities like gyms after school.

“The physical plan of JDHS is not really structured in a way to isolate based on the hallway configurations,” said Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé principal Paula Casperson.

Dozens of people spoke during the public comment period. Juneau Education Association President Chris Heidemann said revisiting the closure plan was creating even more uncertainty for teachers.

“In the last week, I’ve received several notices of resignation,” he said. “My members are starting to decide to leave on their own because of the continued uncertainty in this district around the budget.”

Floyd Dryden Middle School seventh grader Maisey Mar said she was looking forward to going to middle school with students from both Floyd Dryden and Dzantik’i Heeni Middle Schools next year.

“When I heard about the plan to combine the middle school at TM, I was excited about being able to go to school with my friends from both Floyd and DH, including my best friend since kindergarten who currently attends DH,” Mar said.

Others spoke in favor of Frommherz’s model and thanked her for looking into an option they say should have received more consideration from the beginning. Parent Margaret Katzeek said students can get more attention at smaller schools.

“I think about all of our youth who will fall through the cracks, educationally, physically, mentally,” she said.

But several teachers, like Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé math teacher Alexandra Razor, said the board should listen to principals about what it would mean for staff layoffs and course offerings.

“As a teacher of 24 years, I am frustrated right now,” she said. “I’m frustrated that people are questioning teachers and admin on our ability to work together, our ability to welcome students, our ability to create an equitable learning environment, and the idea that we’re going to start allowing students to fail and not graduate.”

After midnight, the board voted 5-2 to indefinitely postpone voting on the amendment, meaning the original closure plan still stands. Members Frommherz and Britteny Cioni-Haywood voted no. 

The board is set to approve next year’s budget at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé library.

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