Empire editorial: Vote yes for Proposition C

Posted: Sunday, October 20, 2002

Proposition C, the $236 million general obligation education funding bond goes before voters on Nov. 5. The bond package applies $170 million toward the $650 million in backlogged rural school projects throughout Alaska. Proposition C also provides $61 million for University of Alaska classroom and facility projects throughout the state and $5 million for the Anchorage Museum.

Juneau has a lot riding on the passage of Proposition C. Support for the second high school in the Mendenhall Valley is strong. Although the proposition doesn't directly earmark funds for the second high school, it contains a provision that is critical to its financial feasibility.

The Legislature incorporated into the bonding proposition an important feature that provides debt reimbursement for urban school construction and maintenance projects. This measure would reimburse municipalities between 60 percent and 70 percent of school bond debt and applies to Juneau's Valley high school bond.

Passage of Proposition C will almost guarantee that Juneau will get a second high school.

Juneau and other Southeast Alaska communities also would receive nearly $14 million out of the $61 million the university will receive from the bond package.

For Juneau, $9 million is earmarked for the new research facility for the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, which is joined with the NOAA/NMFS facility to be constructed at Lena Point. The consolidation of the two facilities will save money, while making Juneau home to one of best ocean sciences research centers in the world.

The bond package also contributes $9 million in funding for other K-12 schools throughout Southeast Alaska.

Alaska has a constitutional responsibility to provide for education, which has grown to become a greater challenge due to federal requirements.

Recognizing that the education system in our country is failing many or our children, President Bush on Jan. 8 signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act, re-authorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Since Alaska already gets failing marks for its rural schools, this federal education law will bring to bear exceptional pressure to raise the bar subject to a hard timeline.

Another advantage to be gained from passage of Proposition C is that it will lessen the need to tap into the Constitutional Budget Reserve to fund school construction projects. With the CBR facing depletion over the next few years, other sources for school funding will become essential.

Alaska's rural schools are saddled with $650 million in backlogged projects. The $170 million slated for rural public school projects in the bond proposition would cover only 27 percent of the backlogged projects.

The timing of this bonding proposal couldn't be better. It has been more than 20 years since Alaska has passed a bond proposition. With interest rates at an all-time low, the debt service to retire the $236 million investment will amount to just $18 million a year for 20 years.

The projects benefiting from the debt reimbursement program such as Juneau's new high school also will benefit from low interest rates.

Conversely, the longer we wait to adequately fund education, the more expensive it will be.

Do the right thing for the future of our children and the state; vote yes on Proposition C.

Don Smith

dssmith@juneauempire.com

586-1428



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