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Candidates tackle education, jobs, housing

Posted: September 18, 2013 - 10:14pm  |  Updated: September 19, 2013 - 12:07am
Juneau School District Board of Education member Barbara Thurston, right, and Lillian "Lisa" Worl speak during the election forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters at the Assembly Chambers Wednesday.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Juneau School District Board of Education member Barbara Thurston, right, and Lillian "Lisa" Worl speak during the election forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters at the Assembly Chambers Wednesday.

Four Assembly candidates and two school board hopefuls answered citizen-submitted questions for about two hours Wednesday night.

The Juneau League of Women Voters put on the forum in the city Assembly chambers. About 30 people listened in person for the first part of the forum which featured the school board candidates, but only about 10 remained by the time Assembly candidates finished their set of questions just before 9 p.m.

The school board candidates present were incumbents Lisa Worl and Barbara Thurston.

They faced an array of questions ranging from getting families more involved in the schools to tough budget issues. One such question was where they think an estimated $650,000 can be cut from the current budget.

An enrollment shortfall — 88 students fewer than the Juneau School District’s projection — means the district may get about $665,000 less in funding from the city and state than was expected.

Neither candidate had the answer.

“You can’t take $650,000 out of the budget without impacting students,” Thurston said. “There isn’t $650,000 lying around under the table.”

She added that the board will have to decide what programs give the most “bang for the buck” and which ones will need to be trimmed.

Worl likened it to asking, “Would you rather cut off your right or left hand?”

Both candidates said the school district is moving in the right direction, and both said they oppose a proposal to allow school vouchers for parents to send their children and tax dollars to private schools.

Two of the four Assembly candidates participating in the debate — Bill Peters and Karen Crane — did so in person while Kate Troll and Mary Becker joined in via telephone.

Questions for the hopeful city-leaders-to-be centered primarily on housing, garbage and revitalizing downtown. There were also a few about snow removal.

All four agreed the city was moving in the right direction in addressing the housing affordability problem.

“It’s just going to take a lot of things to get this done,” Becker said.

Peters added that the city needs to continue looking at land use issues when addressing the housing situation. Troll emphasized the need for mixed use housing downtown as a means of making housing more affordable and revitalizing downtown at the same time.

The only contested race on the ballot is an areawide Assembly seat pitting Troll against Peters.

Though many people would categorize her as a moderate-leaning progressive, Troll said, she added that she is typically fiscally conservative. She pointed to her support for more tax incentives as a means of encouraging more affordable housing.

Peters said downtown revitalization would be boosted by employing incentives to keep more seasonal shops open year-round downtown.

One question addressed the possibility of reopening the Alaska-Juneau Mine, which prompted all candidates to say it was something that should be considered, with special attention paid to the possible effects of noise and congestion downtown.

Crane said it would be necessary to navigate carefully as the city would be both the operator and regulator of the mine.

Addressing alcohol-related issues in the community will require continuing partnerships with medical authorities and the police, the candidates echoed after each other.

The 2013 regular municipal election is set for Oct. 1.

Contact reporter Matt Woolbright at 523-2243 or at matthew.woolbright@juneauempire.com.

Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/reportermatt.

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