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Gov. signs school construction funding bill

3 Southeast school districts aided

Posted: June 19, 2013 - 5:49pm  |  Updated: June 20, 2013 - 12:13am

Schools that were previously in a funding black hole — including three Southeast districts — are now eligible for support from the State of Alaska for construction projects. On Tuesday Gov. Sean Parnell signed a bill that adjusts the state’s funding formula for school construction.

The signing of SB 62 allows five rural schools to take advantage of a 2011 Alaska Superior Court decision that ensures equitable funding of school construction in rural towns and villages.

The case Willie and Sophie Kasayulie et al., v. State of Alaska addressed the reality that some rural communities couldn’t benefit from the state’s bond reimbursement program. With no tax base and no local government, some communities relied solely on pleading their case to the Legislature for funding.

The Kasayulie decision helped create the state’s Regional Education Attendance Area program which helps schools in communities without local government fund construction projects. Schools in Klawock, Kake, Hydaburg, Tanana and St. Mary’s were initially left out of the REAA program because they are in first class cities with governing bodies.

Despite having a local government, these communities aren’t large enough to qualify for a bond and so they’ve continued to rely on earmarks and grants from the Legislature.

Klawock City School District Superintendent Richard Carlson said the exclusion made things very difficult.

“We were kind of in this no man’s land,” Carlson said.

About six years ago an earthquake badly damaged the school’s gym floor. They were able to make temporary fixes but the floor remained unlevel.

“It was kind of amusing,” Carlson said. “During a basketball game the referee would put the ball on the floor during a break and it would roll away. We’d all look around wondering where it went.”

Klawock was eventually awarded a grant from the state to repair the floor, but they almost lost it. The school had five years to come up with funds to match the grant.

“It really is a struggle,” Carlson said. “We were right down to the wire with that.”

Carlson hopes the REAA funding can help with their next big project: repairing the school’s roof. He said it’s worn to the point that when the rain and wind come in at just the right angle there are significant leaks.

The REAA funding isn’t guaranteed money; the schools still have to apply for it. At least, Carlson said, the money is there.

“This will make all of our construction projects easier,” Carlson said. “We’re all very pleased with this.”

Olson, the bill’s sponsor, is also very happy.

“I think we’ve finally completed the circle,” Olson said. “Now they’re finally being treated fairly.”

Contact reporter Jennifer Canfield at 523-2279 or at jennifer.n.canfield@juneauempire.com.

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