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Educational changes will happen through local involvement


Much of the consternation about proposed state budget vetoes this year centers around those related to education. Indeed, the University of Alaska bore the brunt of those reductions – initially $135 million and later reduced to $70 million over three years.

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The size of these cuts sparked indignation among administrators, faculty, students, and many members of the public. But others realized that this was inevitable.

Continually rising costs, a bloated bureaucracy, inefficient duplication of programs, accreditation problems, a dismal graduation rate, and the declining performance of our university system all foreshadowed changes that needed to be made.

How this situation will ultimately shake out remains to be seen. The University declared, then rescinded, a “financial exigency” and is contemplating campus closures and a total restructuring.

But while the university battle will largely be fought at the state level, the next educational donnybrook will be over our K-12 system which remains one of the largest components of the state budget. The impact of any cuts here will fall largely on our local municipal governments.

Saved this year from the budget axe (except for bond debt reimbursement), K-12 state funding may not be so fortunate next year. Existing budgets remain in place while the Administration and Legislature honor a truce in order to let the courts decide whether “forward funding” of schools is allowed and the extent of the Governor’s veto powers is adjudicated.

Despite some of the highest expenditures per pupil in the country, Alaska’s K-12 education system is plagued by poor test scores, absenteeism, and low graduation rates. And much like our university system, if we keep doing things the way they have always been done, we can’t expect anything to change.

I was born and raised in Juneau and my children attended Glacier Valley, Floyd Dryden, and Juneau-Douglas High School.  I always felt that I, and my children, received an excellent education.

Since then, however, despite increased funding and periodic reform efforts, student achievement in Alaska has not kept pace with the rest of the country.

Our state and municipalities can continue to pump more money into our school districts, but locally elected school boards are responsible for hiring and guiding administrators to achieve the best results.

School boards and educators can no longer blame our lack of educational achievement solely on lack of funding.  Accountability for student achievement runs from state government to all 54 school districts around the state, including their school boards, administrators, teachers.

Parents also need to take responsibility for raising the achievement expectations of their children.

As a voter, you can make a difference by educating yourself on the issues and voting in your local election.

In Juneau, that election will take place on October 1 with two open seats on the Board of Education. Four candidates are running for those seats.  Do you know what their educational philosophy and priorities are?

Here are some questions you may want to ask when evaluating each of the candidates:

  • What changes would you propose in the school district strategic plan or curriculum to elevate student achievement?
  • Are you satisfied that discipline policies are fairly enforced, and our schools are safe places to learn?
  • What outreach efforts do you propose to increase community involvement in the schools?
  • How far must our student population decline before seriously considering closing or consolidating school facilities?
  • With less funding from the State, how should we approach balancing reasonable classroom sizes, program choices, personnel salaries, and administrative positions?

Communities must make the effort to involve parents, businesses, and civic organizations to contribute their time and resources to supporting our schools to help them improve.

We also need to let teachers teach. Some I have spoken with are discouraged because they are not supported by administrators or parents and because of the immense number of irrelevant, time-consuming, bureaucratic procedures imposed upon them—funded, as we all know, by the seemingly never-ending increases in education spending.

These are tough issues to unravel.

But candidates running for school board must realize that maintaining the status quo is no longer an option.

Win Gruening retired as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in 2012. He was born and raised in Juneau and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970. He is active in community affairs as a 30-plus year member of Juneau Downtown Rotary Club and has been involved in various local and statewide organizations.









  1. Happytalk.

    We have watched this decline from the time oil started flowing down the pipeline. Instead of litigating the Molly Hootch absurd expectation that every community with 10 or more students have a high school, Gov Hammond built new schools in 126 communities!

    With 54 districts, each with an elected school board and superintendent and assortment of mostly carpetbagging teachers on their Alaska Adventure, we can celebrate lowest outcomes in the nation and a scheme for State funding that the teacher union mob exploits in grand fashion.

    Union- elected school board members won’t change this. Parents must vote with their feet. The new is normed at 12th grade and parents can pull their kids out of Micky Mouse Alaska high school to prep online for the GED at age 16.

    Alaska Public education is done. Put a fork in it.

    • Sounds like a good time to remember to thank a teacher who made a difference in your life.

      Mary Becker and Ken Koelsch come to mind.

      • You don’t understand. Look up the trapped flea principle. There is no such thing as a good public school teacher. There may be teachers you like, but they inevitably kept you from achieving your best (see origin of the word pedagogy)

  2. I can only speak about Anchorage, not state-wide issues, but it seems to me that one of the biggest expenditures in Anchorage’s schools is the Administration, well over 50% of the total budget. If the Administration is supposed to be the ones “to achieve the best results”, along with the fact that they are paid well above what teachers receive, maybe we need to have a discussion about solving this issue? Cut the number of Administrators and allow the teachers to help make decisions about how and what to teach. The teachers are the ones face-to-face with the students. The Administrators aren’t.
    And, as David Boyle points out, more accountability. I would like more transparency on how my property and commercial building taxes are being used.

  3. that is funny, in the 80’s one teacher sent the students English papers, home for the parents to correct, told them i would gladly do so if they would give me the teachers pay for doing so it.

  4. The decline of educational excellence has nothing to do with Oil, or the budget…School does not educate your child. In fact, its whole purpose is to ensure that your child isn’t educated. Kids are smart, really smart. Kids become educated in spite of the public education system. They do not need to be pent up in rooms filled with artificial light memorizing surface-level theory. They need to experience things. That is how people learn. I say, get rid of education regulations and let anybody teach. The parents can be the judge of who is successful and who is not.

    • I agree with you. I am also concerned with the ongoing use of psychotropic drugs, usually starting when they’re 6-7 years old. Those drugs have serious side effects. But they do make kids docile, which appears to be the reason to label so many rambunctious young kids as “ADHD” or “autism spectrum”.
      You rightfully points out that kids “do not need to be pent up in rooms “. Nor do they need to be stuffed full with detrimental drugs at a young age.

      • You are pretty woke! (Not sarcasm). Ever read John Gatto? He talks about how in the 1960’s there was this huge push by the government and other special interests to use psychotropic drugs on kids. For what reason? Some say it’s to further separate your children from anything that truly matters, such as family, tradition, culture religion. Melt their brain even more than public school and tv already does to make them easily controllable. To keep them in a dependent state for the rest of their lives. To keep them in a child like state, easy to entertain, easy to bore, easy to convince of anything…Check out “ The Underground History of American Education” …I say FREE OUR KIDS. Everything else will fall into place after that.

  5. Not sure what was meant by the comment carpetbagging teachers. Those seem like two words that should never be used together. You must be a disgruntled homeschooler parent.

    • Historically, teachers were carpetbaggers, and we still employ many carpetbagger teachers in Alaska to this day. You never thought to look up what carpetbagger meant, you must be publicly educated.

  6. Liberate, likely few today understand the term “carpetbagger”. Readers should look up the definition. The term is very accurate in describing teachers in Alaska today

  7. Historically carpetbaggers were opportunists who exploited the misery in the South following the US Civil War. The tide of newbie teachers who come to Alaska for the top pay, and their Alaska Adventure, is not much different.

    Our education outcomes are among the lowest of all states but many of those carpetbaggers go home to enjoy our Teacher Retirement System…

  8. There is only one solution. You brought your kids into the world, so now finish your responsibility and educate them with home school. I learned early on that I wanted my kids to learn what was really important. Home School was what was done in the beginning. The Founder of Public Schools was Horace Mann and he was a very close friend of Karl Marx. This is the reason for where the Public Schools are today. Don’t exhaust yourself trying to change them, just pull your kids out and Home School them. Be the Parent that educates We The People by first setting the example. There is no more important People in the world than your kids. No longer let them be taught the Communist/Fascist/Nazi Doctrine! Seymour Marvin Mills Jr. sui juris

  9. My kids have been educated in ASD schools. As parents we’ve stayed heavily involved and in touch with teachers. I can’t say that our kids have had a bad teacher in all the years and schools. Our kids have had to put up with some challenging situations, but isn’t that part of being successful in life?

    The current fixation on multiple standardized test scores, advanced courses, etc. etc. is a ridiculous racket in my opinion; but, because everyone else judges kids by it, it’s hard to keep them out of the rat race. When I was in high school there wasn’t an unbalanced emphasis on getting into a great college or taking advanced courses or starting college as a 10’th grader (i.e. ASD Middle College). There weren’t daily “zangle” updates and 100’s of graded assignments. There was a lot less academic, sport, music and parent pressure but perhaps more creativity, discussion and an emphasis on hard work and personal character. Very few kids needed mood/mind altering prescription medication. Maybe it’s just rose colored glasses, but I think kids were better adjusted and typically performed better as adults when education was run by educators and not by administrative bean counters nervous about the public shaming associated with low test score reports.

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