JUNEAU, Alaska - A mandatory drug testing program for Juneau's high school students involved in extra-curricular activities might end in an effort to save the district money.

Eliminating the three-year-old program is one of a handful of cuts the Juneau School District has proposed to reduce spending by about $1.75 million in 2014.

"It's disappointing that any time there are budget cuts, some of the first things that get attacked are extra-curricular activities, elective classes, things like that," said Robert Casperson, coach of the Juneau-Douglas High School boys' basketball team.

Drug testing costs the school $45,475 a year. While that makes up a small percentage of the school's annual budget, it's also equal to about half the cost of employing a teacher, according to the Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich.

The program started as a way to help deter students from using drugs and alcohol. It received very little opposition from students, parents or faculty. If a student-athlete tests positive for drugs, alcohol or tobacco, he or she is ineligible for the rest of that sports season and has limited eligibility in other sports. The program is not aimed at checking for performance enhancing drugs.

So far, the drug testing program has been hailed as a success by many in the community, including Casperson and Gelbrich.

Casperson believes the program works because it helps to mitigate peer pressure by giving students an excuse not to use drugs and alcohol.

High School students involved in "interscholastic activities," ranging from drama club to athletics, are subject to mandatory, random drug tests. A failure on the test can affect a student's participation in after-school activities.

Eight of Alaska's 54 schools districts - Craig, Juneau, Kake, Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Lower Kuskokwim, Pribilof, Sitka and Wrangell- have drug-testing programs, according to a phone survey of Alaska districts conducted by The Associated Press. Only Craig and Juneau have had discussions about cutting their programs. Officials at Yukon Flats school district weren't immediately available for comment.

The Juneau School District's voluntary, drug testing program, which is partially funded by private donations, also would be eliminated.

After a 1995 U.S. Supreme Court decision upheld the right for schools to drug test student-athletes, the practice became more commonplace.

Research into the effectiveness of such programs has yielded contradictory results. A 2003 study published in the Journal of School Health found that drug testing students does not deter drug use.

But a 2010 study contracted by the U.S. Department of Education found that students subjected to drug testing reported less drug use when compared to students in high schools without testing.

Matt Franz, director of operations for Sport Safe Testing and a member of the Student Drug-Testing Coalition, believes t hat research into the efficacy of student drug testing and support from the federal government in the early 2000s helped spur a movement to test students in many schools. Sport Safe Testing currently works with 90 schools across the country.

The movement may have slowed, but Franz hasn't seen a downward trend in the number of schools testing across the country since the recession. Some years, schools will stop because of funding, but others will start.

Administrators and school boards across the country have responded to the changing financial landscape by prioritizing instruction over all else, and Juneau is no exception.

"As much as we believe in and continue to believe in the drug testing program as a school climate issue, and a student safety issue, it's just not an instructional program," says Gelbrich.

"It's a luxury item. If a school can afford to implement a program like this, where it's deterrent-based, than a lot of them will do that," Franz said. " (But) they need teachers, they need books."

The school's board's budget committee will take public testimony on the proposal on Feb. 19. The board will make a final decision March 26.

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Online

Text of the drug testing program: http://bit.ly/14Qe0ii

Juneau School District budget information for FY 2014: http://bit.ly/sVQyod