Alaska Digest

Wire reports

Posted: Wednesday, March 02, 2005

House rejects further boost in ed funding

JUNEAU - The House on Tuesday rejected an attempt by Democrats to boost school funding $201 above the $4,919 per-student spending proposal now on the table.

That amendment and two others offered by Democrats failed in votes that largely followed party lines on the House floor. The House has held over until Wednesday a vote on the $4,919-per-student proposal.

Raising the base student allocation to $5,120 per student would have been a 4 percent difference from the current proposal, said Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage.

"That very small number makes the difference between cutting education programs and adding to them," he said.

Gara distributed a stack of e-mails, letters and resolutions from school districts across the state that said the amount now being considered would still lead to increased class sizes and program cuts.

The amendment was rejected 23-11, with all 23 no votes coming from Republicans. The 11 yes votes were Democrats.

National Education Association-Alaska President Bill Bjork said after the vote the per-student spending amount needs to increase, and that he hopes the Senate will consider $5,120.

If the two chambers come out with different amounts, a final number would be determined by conference committee. That would put early funding in jeopardy, but Bjork said it would be worth it.

"Early funding that isn't adequate isn't a good deal for education," he said.

Early funding would prevent districts from having to hand teachers pink slips in preparation for a potential money shortage. March 15 is the date school districts give tenured teachers pink slips if they are unsure whether enough funding will be available to pay them.

Two students charged with bringing weapons

FAIRBANKS - Two high school students have been arrested and are accused of bringing small explosive devices to school, Alaska State Troopers said.

The boys, 15 and 14, each face a single count of third-degree misconduct involving weapons, according to Alaska State Troopers.

Hutchison High School Principal Bill McLeod said administrators found about a half-dozen of the devices in the boys' possession on Friday. One appeared to be a spent rifle cartridge filled with gunpowder with a detonator or a fuse. Others looked like firecrackers with shrapnel attached and another was about the size of a cherry tomato with numerous detonator caps and shrapnel, McLeod said.

"I believe the one boy had most, if not all of the items, in his possession," he said. "They both kind of participated in acquiring, transporting, having the items at school. ... It was obvious they were both involved in it."

McLeod said he doesn't know why the boys brought the items to school.

"I don't know what their motivation was at this point," he said.

School staff discovered the devices when the boys emptied their pockets after a teacher reported seeing a picture in a locker. It was a caricature of a grim reaper with a sniper rifle with crosshairs trained on a person.

Both of the boys have been suspended, McLeod said, and are likely facing expulsion from the school.

McLeod said law-enforcement teams went through the school with dogs over the weekend and didn't find any more of the devices.

Man sentenced in bear poaching case

ANCHORAGE - An Anchorage man convicted of illegally snaring as many as 20 black bears was sentenced Tuesday in federal court to a year and a day in prison.

Kwan Su Yi, 33, was not fined but was ordered to forfeit the $25,000 boat used in the poaching, a 22-foot Hewescraft.

Prosecutors said Yi and two others snared black bears, removed their gall bladders and plotted to sell them in Korea, where they are used in traditional Asian medicine. They also removed other parts, including legs.

"Conduct such as this, in which bears are killed very inhumanely and then largely wasted so that a single part can be sold for profit, is illegal and will be prosecuted vigorously," said the U.S. attorney for Alaska, Tim Burgess.

Yi was convicted of killing bears in Prince William Sound with two other men, Tae Won Ro, 34, and James Ho Moon, 27. All three pleaded guilty.

Prosecution of the case began in 2002 after biologists conducting stream surveys happened to land their Piper Super Cub next to the suspects' new 22-foot aluminum boat, which had been launched from Whittier.

Prosecutors said Yi, Ro and Moon used eighth-inch steel aircraft cable to make snares to catch bears on Evans, Bainbridge and Chenega islands.

The snares were designed to catch black bears around the neck, tighten as the bear struggled and eventually strangle them.

Acting on the tip from biologists, state and federal law officers caught Yi, Ro and Moon with a cooler full of gall bladders and bear legs.

Ketchikan Shipyard seeks power subsidy

KETCHIKAN - The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority has proposed that the Ketchikan Shipyard receive a 30-year electric rate subsidy from the city-owned Ketchikan power utility.

AIDEA, a quasi-state agency with the mission of encouraging economic growth and diversification, owns the shipyard.

The AIDEA proposal calls for continuing a fixed electric rate that not only falls below the industrial rate charged other businesses, but also below the wholesale price Ketchikan Public Utilities pays for power. AIDEA's proposed agreement also calls for property tax relief.

City Manager Karl Amylon told city council members the request should not be approved without modification.

"Simply asked, does the city council wish to obligate the city for the next 30 years to such property tax relief and electric subsidies?" he wrote in a memorandum.

The city since 1994 has given the shipyard more than $1.3 million in subsidies, he said.

In the past, the council has voted in favor of the subsidy despite recommendations against it.

Shipyard general manager Bob Burke said continued development of the shipyard requires long-term planning and regular expenses such as electricity must be considered in that planning.

Burke said the council should consider the shipyard's rate reduction in the context of the region's overall business and economic development. The reduced rate for the shipyard should not be called a subsidy, he said.

"The reduced rate for electricity at the shipyard is a way of promoting economic development, business development and employment in the region, which is a little different from a subsidy," he said.

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