Northwest Digest

Posted: Sunday, February 27, 2005

House Finance OKs more school funding

JUNEAU - The House Finance Committee on Friday approved a $70 million increase in education funding.

House Bill 1 would increase the base allocation by $343 above last year's allocation of $4,576 - $8 million more than what Gov. Frank Murkowski proposes. It now heads to the House floor for consideration.

The House Finance Committee's figure is the same as what the the House Health Education and Social Services Committee approved Feb. 15.

At the time, several lawmakers said the figure likely would rise as the bill moved through the House. School districts have asked for a great deal more funding.

The House Finance Committee's figure is worth about $2.7 million to the Juneau schools in new funds, $300,000 more than Murkowski's proposal.

Lawmakers cool to study of school costs

JUNEAU - The joint Legislative Budget and Audit Committee gave a chilly reception Friday to a study recommending the state spend an additional $82 million to equalize the purchasing power of dollars spent in urban and rural school districts.

The study by the University of Alaska Anchorage's Institute of Social and Economic Research says rural districts need more money to pay energy costs and to have an equal chance with urban districts at hiring and keeping good teachers.

The so-called area cost differential is one piece of the formula for determining the state funding and the minimum local funding for schools, called basic need.

The formula has not been changed since 1998.

Juneau would gain $1.25 million under the current level of funding and $4.4 million under the proposal to add $82 million. Anchorage would lose $24.3 million at the current funding level.

House Finance Co-Chairman Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said it is too early to tell if lawmakers will take action on the study's recommendations this session.

"I'm still trying to determine if the study is viable," he said.

Tanner crabbers hold out for better price

KODIAK - Tanner crab fishermen are holding fast to their plea for higher prices.

Fishermen have been meeting every morning in Kodiak for the past six weeks as they wait for a price settlement so they can break what some call a "stand-down" and some call a "strike."

To date, fishermen have rejected prices offered by local canneries - between $1.50 and $1.85 per pound, saying that Dutch Harbor canneries paid $2.60 for tanner crab.

In an open-meeting vote Friday morning, fishermen voted not to fish at this point, according to fisherman Norm Botz.

Alaska Zoo passes USDA inspection

ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Zoo passed a surprise inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including a visit by an elephant specialist who looked into Maggie's care, a zoo official said.

Maggie is an African elephant that arrived at the zoo in 1983 as an infant when her herd in Kruger National Park in South Africa was culled. She has been at the center of a debate for months over whether the Alaska Zoo is an appropriate facility to keep an African elephant.

Zoo curator Pat Lampi told KTVA-TV in Anchorage that while some concerns were raised about Maggie's condition, the zoo passed the inspection and was found to be in compliance with all federal standards.

USDA investigators did the inspection earlier this month. It found that Maggie is not getting enough exercise and needs a better floor.

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