Alaska Digest

Posted: Friday, April 21, 2006

Panel rejects extra school funding hike

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JUNEAU - The Senate Finance Committee on Thursday rejected an attempt to raise public school funding above Gov. Frank Murkowski's $90 million request.

On Wednesday, the House Finance Committee bumped the funding increase to $96 million in its version of the bill.

When a similar change was proposed in the Senate committee, it was rejected along party lines. The committee's five Republicans voted against the increase, while the two Democrats voted for it.

The education budget is now $980 million, the largest program paid for with state money.

Murkowski's increase would raise the base student allocation from $4,919 per student this year to $5,352 next year. It would be the fourth consecutive year the base student allocation has increased, following a five-year period of relatively flat funding.

Of the $90 million increase, school districts would have to spend $40 million to pay their benefit obligations to the Teachers' Retirement System. Another $30 million would cover the districts' costs of fuel and insurance and $20 million would go into the classroom.

Earth Day celebration Saturday at glacier

JUNEAU - The Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center is presenting an Earth Day festival Saturday from 10 to 4 p.m.

Opening ceremonies at 10 a.m. will feature Mayor Bruce Botelho and Juneau District Ranger Pete Griffin. A reading of Dr. Seuss' environmental fable, "The Lorax" will occur at 11 a.m., followed by a performance by the string ensemble, Heartstrings.

Oceana's Jon Warrenchuck will speak at noon and more music is scheduled at 1 .m. by Liz and Leif Saya.

University of Southeast Alaska Dean of Arts and Sciences Brendan Kelly will speak about protecting the Earth at the local level at 2 p.m. and Kevin Hood will talk about wilderness at 3 p.m.

A number of organizations will host information tables, ranging from the Alaska Biofuels Alliance to the Mendenhall Watershed Project.

For kids, the festival offers recycled craft-making and a scavenger hunt, both with prizes.

People can sign pledges to protect the earth and pin them on a "pledge tree" at the center. Also, the Mendenhall Watershed Project will distribute plantable tree cuttings.

UAF investigating breach of server

FAIRBANKS - A computer server at the Bethel campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks was breached, university officials said Thursday.

Among other information, the server at the Kuskokwim Campus contained two files with nearly 39,000 names, e-mail addresses and Social Security numbers of current and former UA and UAF staff, faculty and students.

The server was used for routine business at the campus.

The data in one of the files included information on people who were issued UAF or UA e-mail accounts since at least 1995. The other file was smaller and contained user IDs and passwords for Bethel students and employees. Other personal information was not on the server, according to the university.

Break-ins to the server apparently started in February 2005.

A computer technician at the Kuskokwim Campus first noticed an anomaly on the server on March 30. The technician alerted the main campus and the university assigned a technician to the problem April 3.

Technicians identified a possible security issue April 5 and a day later discovered an unauthorized program running on the server, which was shut down.

The university said it has received no reports of identity theft associated with the incident.

Officials said they plan to contact people whose information could have been compromised.

Craig buys Ward Cove cannery property

KETCHIKAN - The city of Craig has purchased the former Wards Cove Packing Co. site near the community's downtown.

The city will solicit public comment for the future of the former cannery.

A new harbor, parking, renovated historic buildings and private development are among possible uses for the site, said Jon Bolling, Craig city administrator.

The purchase was concluded April 12.

"People are pretty excited about it," City Councilman Greg Head said. Craig paid $1.75 million for the property, which includes five acres of tidelands and five acres of uplands.

Owned by Wards Cove Packing for several decades, the site has about 15 cannery buildings, including bunkhouses, administration buildings, a carpenter's shop and other structures.

"Most of the buildings have just been boarded up and unused for many years," Bolling said.

The frames of the old boat ways used to haul fishing boats out of the water are dilapidated but still in place, Bolling said.

During the public planning process, the city will be look at which buildings can be restored.

A draft land use plan suggests a new harbor, new breakwaters, renovated historic buildings, public parking, an open space and areas for other development.

"What we're really interested in is transient moorage space," Bolling said.

A dozen North Pole students suspended

NORTH POLE - A dozen North Pole seventh-graders have been suspended as police look into rumors about a plan to bring weapons to school and kill other students.

No one has been arrested and no weapons were found, said Principal Ernie Manzie.

"We do feel it's safe here at the school," Manzie said.

The investigation began Monday after a parent heard about the plan from a child and called police.

Elements of the police probe include reports of a so-called hit list and of students being verbally threatened, Police Chief Paul Lindhag said.

"We're taking this seriously," he said. "We take any kind of threats like this seriously."

Manzie said a number of parents have kept their children out of school this week due to the incident, but did not know how many.

The students suspended are both boys and girls, according to Manzie. The pupils are accused of planning to bring weapons to school or having knowledge of the plan and not reporting it.

"We believe we've identified the people of concern," Manzie said.

Manzie sent a letter home to parents Tuesday saying the school was aware of rumors that students planned to bring weapons to school. The letter encouraged parents to talk to their children and said the rumors are being investigated.

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