Task force appointed to consider school funding

Group includes just one member from Southeast Alaska

Posted: Friday, June 01, 2007

Leaders of the Alaska House of Representatives and Senate have each appointed five members to a new education task force, and Gov. Sarah Palin on Thursday appointed the 11th member.

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The Joint Legislative Education Funding Task Force will evaluate and review how the state supports its schools and recommend improvements on fairness and adequacy.

The all-male, heavily Republican group will be asked to submit a report by Sept. 1 with its recommendations.

The governor's appointee was Carl Rose, executive director of the Alaska Association of School Boards.

The group includes just one member from Southeast Alaska, Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, and two from rural areas, Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, and Rep. Reggie Joule, D-Kotzebue.

Others include Reps. Mike Kelly, R-Fairbanks; Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage; Paul Seaton, R-Homer; Bob Roses, R-Anchorage; and Sens. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, and Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak.

Bill Bjork, president of the National Education Association-Alaska, said he was disappointed the most recent Legislature waited until its final few days to publicly consider education.

"There was no time for the community to give input," he said.

He said he hoped the task force will hold numerous meetings and hear broad points of view.

"I hope for an aggressive meeting schedule, to allow input from stakeholders," he said.

House Minority Leader Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, was surprised by the makeup of the committee.

"I was surprised there was no women on it," she said.

She was less concerned about the lack of regional representation because she's been assured by House Speaker John Harris that members who are not officials committee members will be encouraged to attend and participate in meetings as well.

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, said he was disappointed that there wasn't additional Southeast representation, such as Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, who chairs the Health, Education and Social Services Committee.

Bjork said the group had a good chance to provide a useful look at what's grown to be a very complex problem.

"We're optimistic that these folks are going to get the job done," Bjork said.

If the task force cannot reach an agreement on a recommendation, it will be asked to request a special legislative session to look at school financing.

Bjork said something must be done.

"Our schools have been on a starvation diet for two decades," he said.

• Pat Forgey can be reached at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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