Joe Geldhof: Attempt to recall current school board members is misdirected

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Thunder Mountain High School in Juneau.

By JOE GELDHOF

The long-postponed and necessary closure and consolidation of Juneau schools had to happen. There is no question given the huge deficit faced by the Juneau School District and the district’s long, slow steady decline in enrollment that significant change was unavoidable and likely long overdue.

The educational needs of our students required immediate action. Fortunately, five current members of the JSD School Board took action to reduce the number of underutilized school buildings in our community.  These board members acted to enhance the quality of education for our student population, and they based that action on demographic and financial reality.

It should be obvious to anyone paying attention to this situation that previous school boards and upper-level Juneau School District leadership ignored the reality of declining enrollment for years. 

The recent consolidation process was comprehensive and transparent and afforded the public, teachers, students, and parents abundant opportunities for participation in contemplating and planning for the necessary changes.

Now, a rump group of disaffected citizens has launched an effort to recall two school board members.  This effort to recall select members of our current school board is misplaced.  

The right to petition our government is fundamental and protected in our state’s constitution.  This fundamental right includes the ability to recall school board members.  But the passionate sentiments harbored by this small group of disgruntled citizens seeking to use their right to initiate a recall does not make the effort a good idea.  Those agitating for the recall are reacting to an outcome that was carefully deliberated and, in many ways, inevitable. 

The last thing our community needs now is a divisive recall campaign that ignores reality and is driven by emotion. Nor can we afford to spend taxpayer money on a special recall election.

The current recall effort is also freighted with irony. The targeted members are the two individuals who obviously demonstrated leadership by acting diligently, thoughtfully, responsibly and promptly to address a situation they inherited. 

If a recall was ever justified about consolidating school, it should have been conducted years ago and aimed at former school board members who bungled budget issues and ignored obvious student enrollment declines. It is also obvious that the previous Juneau School District Superintendent was not up to the task of effectively managing the educational needs of our students or the fiscal concerns of our taxpayers.  It is also apparent that mistakes were made by previous school board members that put sound educational instruction in jeopardy.

Brian Holst retired from the School Board in October 2023 after nine years on the Board, including five as School Board President. Holst led the Board in 2017 when a comprehensive Juneau School District facility master plan was delivered to the City and Borough of Juneau and the Juneau School District Board in June 2017.

This plan noted the continuing enrollment slump and presented building reconfiguration scenarios, including potential closure of one middle school and one high school, which were obvious and necessary long ago but finally enacted this spring. Holst and the members of school board ignored this comprehensive plan in 2017, essentially kicking the proverbial can down the road for the current Juneau School District Board when the issue had turned into a crisis.  

Sensible citizens should ask themselves why did it take seven years for these serious enrollment issues to be brought to the public’s attention?  It wasn’t based on the omissions and mishandling by the two individuals now facing a recall for acting to finally fix old problems.

The obvious mistakes made by previous school boards and senior staff in our school district are in the past. The current school board responsibly assumed the challenging task of making necessary adjustments to alleviate the significant problems facing our school system.  The current superintendent has acted thoughtfully and diligently to promote educational learning for all our students in a manner that Juneau can afford.

The last thing Juneau needs now is a bitter and divisive fight seeking to recall school board members who are doing a decent job under very difficult circumstances.  

If you care about providing a sound education for Juneau’s students and managing the Juneau School District based on reality instead of fantasy and magical thinking, please pass on signing a petition trying to recall members of the current school board. 

Joe Geldhof a resident of West Juneau.  He sometimes conducts legal work for a variety of individuals and organizations in Juneau and other communities. The thoughts he expresses reflect his belief that public schools are essential to a sustainable democracy.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Are these petitioners school district employees or relatives thereof? If so, their motives would appear self-serving.

    Did these petitioners oppose re-starting the AJ mine? ….Which could have created a need for three new schools. Ironically, they are likely typical nay-sayers whose no-growth positions over the years contributed to the current need to shut down schools.

    The answers to these questions can be found.

  2. Thank you for the sensible article outlining the reality of the situation.

    One more thing…For too long, people have not stepped up and run for our school board. Instead of sitting on the sidelines and complaining, run.

  3. Sounds familiar: Anchorage, are you listening? Pump up the district(s) with unused funds due to emptying schools and declining enrollments. Then whine about being “underfunded”. What a sleight of hand.

  4. Good letter. It is a painful time and hard decisions had to be made. That’s leadership. We need to support that and come together now.

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