Alaska Digest

Posted: Friday, May 11, 2007

Funding for Alaska schools in the works

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JUNEAU - The Alaska Legislature still has some big items on its plate, including public education funding, which is the largest slice of the state's budget pie.

With the end of session just days away, the issue is being hashed out among House and Senate leaders away from the committee process.

House Finance Committee Co-Chairman Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, said lawmakers are still trying to reach an agreement they can bring forward in legislation.

"The question is 'What is fair?'," Meyer said. "Obviously before I hear an education bill dealing with this I want to make sure my district, which represents 40 percent of the kids, is not losing ground."

Most lawmakers and educators agree that the current system is flawed, but fixing the system so that it provides parity to far-flung districts with varied needs has so far proved beyond their reach.

The state devotes almost a third of its budget to funding K-12, divvying up the money through a complex formula that includes a per pupil allocation and a district cost factor to account for differences in the cost of living between rural and urban areas.

The formula also requires contributions from most local governments and allows for a higher per pupil allocation for special needs students.

Lawmakers agreed on a temporary fix last year and, with time running short, they may be forced to do so again.

Troopers seek 2 in Fairbanks murder

FAIRBANKS - A grand jury has indicted two Fairbanks men on charges of first-degree murder and evidence tampering. Alaska State Troopers said the suspects may be hiding in Anchorage.

Curtis M. Johnson Jr., 22, is accused of firing the gun that killed Brandon Steward, 23, on Jan. 14 at a trailer park, Lakeview Terrace, in south Fairbanks. Steward was hit in the back of the neck.

The grand jury also indicted Garry G. Lawerence Jr., 25. Authorities believe he was present when Steward was shot and fled with Johnson in a minivan.

Johnson and Lawerence are considered armed and dangerous, said trooper investigator Kevin Yancey said.

The suspects' names were not made public when the indictment was filed last week.

"We wanted a chance to catch these guys before they fled," Yancey said.

A separate indictment charges Johnson's 51-year-old father, also named Curtis, with hindering prosecution. He's accused of assisting his son to elude apprehension.

He was arrested Saturday and taken to Fairbanks Correctional Center with bail set at $5,000.

Law enforcement authorities want the public's help in locating the younger men.

"There are definitely people that know where they are," Yancey said. "People are just not coming forward with the information that we need."

FBI arrests airline passenger for lunging

ANCHORAGE - Authorities arrested a Northwest Airlines passenger after he lunged at a flight attendant, FBI officials said Thursday.

The FBI said 49-year-old Rafael Alberto Holazo of Oklahoma City began swearing and harassing other passengers three hours into a Wednesday flight from Detroit to Nagoya, Japan.

When a flight attendant showed him a violation card and asked that he return to his seat, Holazo grew agitated and lunged at the attendant, FBI Special Agent Toni Fogle said in a prepared statement.

After Holazo allegedly grabbed the attendant's shoulder, two other passengers pulled him off. The flight was diverted to the Anchorage international airport, where airport police and FBI agents arrested him.

Holazo was charged with interfering with a flight crew. He was being held at the Anchorage city jail until a federal court appearance today.

State BLM names new fire service manager

ANCHORAGE - The state Bureau of Land Management will soon have a new fire service manager for Alaska, officials said Thursday.

Longtime Alaska firefighter John Gould, who first worked for the bureau in 1976, will take the position beginning in July.

State BLM leaders hailed Gould as a national leader in firefighting communications.

"He has the ability to lead the Alaska Fire Service and the management skills to work collaboratively with natural resource managers and the interagency wildlife community statewide," said BLM Director Tom Lonnie said in a prepared statement.

In 1999, Gould left the Alaska Fire Service, where he worked as a smokejumper supervisor. Gould now serves as a safety manager at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

Gould demonstrated his leadership ability while working with the Federal Fire and Aviation Safety Team, which is responsible for developing and overseeing fire-safety practices for the Department of the Interior, Lonnie said.

Gould replaces Scott Billing, who retired in January.

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