Middle school sports travel is back on the school board’s agenda

Juneau Schools Superintendent Mark Miller at a Juneau School Board meeting in December. (Photo by Quinton Chandler/KTOO)

The Juneau School Board is revisiting its 2013 travel ban for middle school sports.

The 2013 school board disappointed a lot of people in Juneau when it voted to stop middle school sports teams from traveling out of town. At the school board meeting Tuesday, Superintendent Mark Miller said he read dozens of pages of documents to wrap his head around the previous board’s decision. Miller wasn’t working for the district when the decision was made.

Jon Kurland speaks at the school board meeting Tuesday. (Photo by Quinton Chandler/KTOO)

“Well, there are a number of issues around it. One was equity. It seemed that as the number of students that were able to travel went down that the socioeconomic status of the students who was traveling went up.”

He also said that it looked like the middle school travel program was “dying” over time.

“If you look at the numbers it went from 120 to something around 60, to something around 30 over three years,” Miller said. “So I think it was a matter of equity, impact on student instruction, (and) impact on the number of days the kids and teachers were missing.”

Miller said the board decided the costs were too high.

More than three years have passed, five of the board members who voted on the issue are gone and the hard feelings in the community haven’t gone away. That’s why Miller said the current school board asked him to take another look.

After his investigation, Miller asked the board to consider whether middle school travel would hurt student learning and teacher instruction and other questions.

“Is it going to be equitable? Can we ensure that any student who wants to travel for middle school sports can, regardless of whether they can afford it or not?” Miller asked. “What is the impact on the community? I have people come to me hour — day after day saying, ‘We can’t have another raffle or another car wash, you’re tapping us out.’”

Miller also made rough estimates on the cost of a travel program. He estimated $25,000 per year to pay for students who couldn’t afford travel rates, $20,000 to $40,000 in administration costs and about $10,000 for contingency planning. He also estimated another $50,000 to $70,000 would have to be raised by the community, the City and Borough of Juneau, or the school district.

After hearing Miller’s report, the board decided to review the travel issue at its March 14 meeting. Policy Committee Chair Emil Mackey said his committee would review the travel policy’s language and highlight changes the board might want to make.

Jon Kurland served on an independent committee formed after dozens in Juneau objected to the 2013 school board’s decision to end middle school sports travel. He looked at Miller’s report to the school board and agreed with the superintendent’s concerns for equity and the effects on classroom instruction, but he slightly disagreed on some of the cost estimates.

“I think he was filling the role that the superintendent should fill in trying to give a reasonable sense of what the costs would be,” Kurland said. “I think he was in some cases looking at a worst case, assuming that every middle school sports team would want to travel every single year.”

Kurland said based on his conversations with parents and coaches, that’s not really realistic. He hopes the district does vote to let middle schoolers travel again. He said that those travel opportunities offer incredible life experiences that the kids shouldn’t miss.