Knowles' plan includes money for Juneau schools

Proposal offers no guarantee of funding for new high school

Posted: Wednesday, January 26, 2000

Gov. Tony Knowles' school construction proposal released today could provide some money for a new high school in Juneau.

The plan would also provide funds for several major maintenance projects in the Juneau School District, including renovation of the existing high school and replacement of the roof at the Marie Drake building.

Knowles released his plan to spend $510 million on school construction and maintenance over the next three years. The measure would have to pass the Legislature to be implemented.

Rep. Eldon Mulder has also introduced a bond proposal that includes about $500 million for school buildings. The Anchorage Republican said that based on feedback he's received he expects legislators to scale back the price tag of whichever plan they chose.

``Many feel we're trying to go too far too fast,'' he said.

The governor's plan is to sell bonds to pay for $360 million in construction and maintenance projects. The projects would be funded according to their placement on a state Department of Education's priority list, according to Annalee McConnell, director of the Office of Management and Budget.

``It's in the exact same sequence as the list,'' McConnell said.

Top projects on that list include new schools in rural areas of the state, such as Chevak and Pilot Station. Maintenance projects in Juneau are also near the top, including new roofs at Auke Bay Elementary School, at the Marie Drake building and at the Harborview Elementary School gym.

A new high school for Juneau is not high enough on the list to be funded under that aspect of Knowles' plan.

However, Knowles' program also includes $150 million to be used to partly reimburse districts for projects not on the list. Anchorage would automatically receive $60 million of that money, but Juneau would be eligible to apply for some of the remaining $90 million for a new high school here.

``That would certainly be a project that's eligible,'' McConnell said.

School districts would have to be willing to pick up at least 30 percent of the cost to be eligible for that money. Juneau voters last fall approved a bond issue that included $49.9 million for a new high school, provided the district receives partial reimbursement from the state.

Gary Bader, superintendent of the Juneau School District, said he didn't have enough information on the proposal to know how Juneau will fare.

``We just hope we will qualify under the debt reimbursement program,'' he said.

Under the governor's plan the $150 million in bond debt reimbursement for projects not on the state's priority list would be paid for out of the state's general fund.

The other part of the program - $360 million - would be paid by selling bonds, to be partly repaid by money from the state's settlement of a lawsuit with the tobacco industry.

Mulder said an important difference between his proposal and the governor's is that his requires approval by voters.

His plan, which totals $665 million, also includes money for improvements to harbors, maintenance on university buildings and upgrades to make state buildings accessible to those with disabilities.

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