Win Gruening: Smearing Juneau school board members and superintendent is vindictive



A school consolidation plan announced by the Juneau School District (JSD) has drawn fire from a dissident group calling themselves Community Advocates for Responsible Education (CARE). They are sponsoring petitions to recall two JSD Board members and mounting a full-blown campaign blitz urging the board to reverse its decision to merge Juneau’s two high schools.

Some may applaud their activism, but, in resorting to an expensive special recall election and character assassination, CARE is anything but responsible or caring.

Declining enrollment in Juneau and some school districts in Alaska (Matsu is a notable exception) isn’t unique. It’s being mirrored nationally, mostly in urban areas where student populations have plummeted and are expected to continue to fall.

A recent Wall Street Journal article about what Los Angeles schools are facing, and many other school districts across the country, illustrates a difficult-to-sustain dynamic: too many schools for too few students. Los Angeles is down to 413,800 students across 800 schools, from nearly 750,000 students in 2003.

A recent article in The Seattle Times discusses how school officials there could eventually close more than a quarter of the district’s nearly 70 elementary schools. 

The irony facing administrators and school board officials is that as per-pupil costs continue to rise at under-populated schools, the quality of education, breadth of curriculum, and resources at those schools diminish.

Merging schools has the opposite effect. Per-pupil costs go down while programs and resources expand.

That some parents and students might focus on other aspects of school consolidations such as longer commutes, different teachers, and unfamiliar surroundings is understandable. Change is always hard and it’s a natural and emotional reaction.

But the positive aspects shouldn’t be overlooked.

More importantly, delaying needed consolidation ignores the district’s structural deficit, further strains school budgets, and prolongs necessary acceptance by parents, students, and teachers of what eventually must happen. 

JSD demographic studies confirm an additional 1,200 student loss in Juneau is expected within the next 10 years.

CARE’s brochure being distributed at petition-signing events misrepresents the process and the facts behind the JSD board’s consolidation decision. Irrelevant assertions designed to provoke emotional reactions are featured including the economic impact of students’ Valley shopping, availability of student parking, and playing sports in a different athletic league, none of which determine educational outcomes.

The contention that Juneau’s public process was flawed is belied by the facts. JSD held dozens of public meetings. Input was solicited through multiple community and staff engagement meetings and a JSD Budget Survey. A budget newsletter supplementing public announcements was featured on the district web page and social media. Superintendent Hauser was available at all public meetings to answer questions.

In a letter to the Assembly, Juneau Empire, and School Board, CARE claims they want their issues “addressed as a form of goodwill to begin rebuilding a climate of trust and cooperation between the community and the Board.”

But blaming current school board members for poor decision-making by past boards and administrators is neither fair nor responsible. Mounting a petition drive to recall them is petty, spiteful, and only sows further division and distrust.

Most recently, a CARE group leader, in an Empire My Turn, attempted to vilify JSD Superintendent Frank Hauser by claiming he “ has shown no respect, compassion, or courtesy to staff, students, or parents”, implying that ”another agenda [was] at play”, and finally, the district was ”being dismantled by a superintendent whose primary residence is listed in Anchorage.”

None of that is true. It certainly won’t foster the “trust and cooperation” CARE professes to desire given that respect is a two-way street.

It took many years for JSD to reach the point where the board was forced to act. Not everyone will agree with the consolidation model that was chosen. However, it preserved the most programs and ensured the district a solid financial footing going forward.

Signing petitions to recall school board members and spending over $100,000 of taxpayer dollars for a pointless recall election isn’t a solution.

Nor is smearing people’s reputations and misrepresenting the facts. In doing so, CARE has forfeited any legitimacy and credibility it may have had.

After retiring as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in Alaska, Win Gruening became a regular opinion page columnist for the Juneau Empire. He was born and raised in Juneau and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970. He is involved in various local and statewide organizations.


  1. Very well stated Win. Thank you. The incredible selfishness and refusal to accept the facts along with the lack of civility on the part of these petitioners is hard to take. we can only hope that the citizens of Juneau recognize it and soundly reject the petition.

    • I know I will.

      There are a boatload of issues with “education” in Juneau, and the board misses way more often than they hit.

      But they are right on this issue.

  2. Win, your observations very compelling and easily understood. Moreover, they are presented with utmost gentility. I would like to press a little harder…..

    Perhaps the status of “CARE” people should be reviewed? What are their apparent motives? Do any of them have financial interests in school operations? Do they have children in schools for which they want to preserve a status quo? Do they truly understand the need to balance a budget? Do they care? Or are they simply disgruntled, selfish, beneficiaries of a taxpayer-funded gravy train that is running out of steam? Its a small town; few of us can hide our true agenda.

  3. One JDHS worked before, it’ll work again. Budgets are real, deficits are real. Good article, the truth hurts. People don’t participate in the school board process consistently, but the sky is falling if they make an unpopular decision. This is a statewide, probably nationwide problem.

  4. The petition they circulate reveals their vindictive intent.

    Even if they are lucky enough to find 3000 gullible people to sign, and even if the vote they wish to see happen goes in their favor (and it almost certainly won’t), all that would result is the removal of 2 school board members – one of whom has already said she is retiring from the board.

    The petition doesn’t fix the budget, or form a realistic plan for the future. This is nothing put a personal vendetta campaign.

  5. Mr. Gruening:

    Please stop stirring up the decent Juneau K-12 community with your Juneau School Board Recall. Ask them to focus on the $80,433,400,000 Fund that we Alaskans are all supposed to own. If they dare to figure out what is really going on at Alaska Permanent Fund, they will be “cut at the knees” as we have been.

    How much money is Key Bank making off Alaska Permanent Fund? I remember when Key Bank moved to Alaska in about 1984 when your Key Bank Board in Cleveland figured out how unaccountable Alaskans allowed “our” Fund to be.

    I was an elected member, Anchorage School Board, 1990-1994 when “the purveyors of the status quo” spent $2-3 million stirring up Anchorage citizens for Anchorage School Board Recall in December, 1992. Walter Featherly, Carol Stolpe (who became husband and wife), and Dorothy Cox were recalled.

    School Boards are supposed to be for long range planning for the education of youngsters. It is so wrong to make these grassroots politicians targets of hatred. Juneau residents, please figure out who is paying the $100,000 to recall two Juneau School Board members.

  6. Please review our Facebook Group:”Elect Alaska Attorney General 2026″ h’ttps:// and my own list:”Theresa Nangle Obermeyer” ‘


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