Juneau parents petition to recall school board leaders in response to district’s consolidation plan

Parents Shannon Kelly, Jenny Thomas and Melissa Loggy man the petition table at Safeway (Photo by Anna Canny/KTOO)

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Shannon Kelly stood in the median at the intersection of Egan Highway and Mendenhall Loop Road, facing a line of heavy traffic.

She was waving a poster board sign that read “Budget deficit? Con Job,” written in bold marker.

At a red light, a few passing drivers showed their support by flashing a thumbs up or beeping. 

“I love the honks,” Kelly said.

Kelly’s son is a junior at Thunder Mountain High School, just up the road.

But next year, he’ll have to move downtown for school. That’s because in February, the Juneau School Board voted for a plan that will move all high schoolers to Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé and all middle schoolers to Thunder Mountain’s building. It’s an effort to address the district’s financial woes.

Kelly and other Thunder Mountain parents feel the new arrangement is bad for students. And they feel the board failed to understand this year’s budget and the $7.9 million deficit that came with it. So they’re here, petitioning on a Sunday afternoon, in an effort to recall School Board President Deedie Sorenson and Vice President Emil Mackey. 

“It’s just ridiculous what they’ve done to our kids,” Kelly said. “These kids who are juniors, you know, they already lost their 8th grade year to covid and now they’re losing their senior year because these people made decisions without community input and it’s garbage.”

Kelly said her son envisioned having his senior year at Thunder Mountain. Now, rather than switch schools, he plans to finish his graduation requirements with summer courses or homeschool.

Melissa Loggy is also a Thunder Mountain parent, with two teenage daughters.  But she says the recall effort is not meant to pit the two campuses against each other. 

“I am not just for TM,” Loggy said. “I am for two high schools.”

The petitioners would prefer to blend middle schoolers and high schoolers for a 7th through 12th grade model at both campuses. 

But the board already considered that idea, and voted against it, back in March.

a meeting
Deedie Sorensen and Emil Mackey at a school board meeting on April 16th, 2024 (Photo by Anna Canny/KTOO)

According to Mackey, a 7-12 arrangement would do little to close the budget gap. 

“Because it costs more money. It costs a lot more money,” Mackey said. “And it doesn’t really fit the facilities.”

He added that it would cause overcrowding at Thunder Mountain and more staff layoffs across the district. 

Sorensen, the board President, knows the consolidation plan has been difficult for students and parents. 

“I understand that the displacement has caused a great deal of angst for a segment of the community,” Sorensen said. “But I feel that we made the best decision for the greatest number of students.”

And Sorensen and Mackey agree that the district’s budget challenges go far beyond this year’s deficit. Districts across the state have been running low on funds for years.

State money for schools has lagged behind the rate of inflation. And now, districts have to go without the federal money that floated them through the pandemic. 

Meanwhile, Mackey, who is currently serving his third term on the board, says the number of students in Juneau is declining. 

“This needs to be done,” Mackey. “Ever since I’ve been elected to the board in 2015, this problem has been kicked down the road.”

Sorensen and Mackey are both set to serve their terms through 2025. That makes them the only members of the board who are eligible for recall. Two members were elected just last fall and the remaining three are up for reelection this fall, which makes them ineligible.

Mackey said he’s heard from plenty of community members that support the board’s decision, but at a petition table in front of Safeway in the Mendenhall Valley, there were plenty of people, like Ashley Anderson, who didn’t.

“If I could sign it 100 times I would,” Anderson said.

Anderson’s children are younger. Her daughter attends Riverbend Elementary — which will stay open under the consolidation plan — but her son attends Floyd Dryden, which will close. All of the middle schoolers will end up in the same building.

Anderson said she worries about bullying or more competitive sports try-outs at the bigger school. She also worries about what will happen when her son moves on to high school. 

“Having him go all the way to Juneau-Douglas scares me,” Anderson. “We live all the way out in the Valley, and it’s not feasible for our family.”

The petitioners need to gather at least 2,359 signatures from eligible Juneau voters in order to get the recall on the ballot. They’ve been at it for about three weeks now, and by the latest estimate they have just under 1,000.

If the recall succeeds, five of the seven school board seats will be vacant this fall. None of the petitioners are eager to fill those spots. 

Sorensen had planned to retire at the end of her regular term next year, but Mackey said he’d run again.

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