Posted: Wednesday, December 20, 2000

More JDHS students pass HS exam

JUNEAU - More Juneau-Douglas High School students have passed portions of the high school graduation exam.

Some students who failed one or more sections of the three-part test, first given last March to sophomores, have passed sections they retook in early October.

Under state law, students starting with the Class of 2002 (this year's juniors) must pass the reading, writing and math tests to get a high school diploma.

Nearly half of the 69 JDHS students who retook the reading test in October passed it. At this point, 89 percent of 427 JDHS juniors have passed it. A quarter of 173 JDHS students who retook the writing test passed it. At this point, 64 percent of local juniors have passed it. And a little more than a quarter of 181 JDHS students who retook the math test passed it, making for 59 percent of local juniors who have passed it.

Assistant Superintendent Peggy Cowan told the Juneau School Board on Tuesday she was "thrilled" with the scores. This year's juniors didn't know if they had passed the March tests until just before the school year began. That didn't give them time for extra help, she said.

The Knowles administration and the state Board of Education have asked the Legislature to set back the graduation test's effective date by several years. They said schools need more time to prepare students.

State willing to pay more for new school

JUNEAU - The state Department of Education has agreed more of the proposed Dimond Park high school is eligible for state funds.

The Juneau School District had appealed the eligible amount and the school's position on a priority list of school construction projects. That list serves as a recommendation to the Legislature, although it isn't always followed.

The Department of Education has agreed $43.67 million of the proposed $49.9 million high school is eligible for state funds. That's up from the agency's initial recommendation of $41.3 million. The agency also raised the school's ranking from No. 43 to No. 42, behind roughly $330 million of state funds for other school construction projects.

At issue was partly when the proposed Juneau school would open and what its likely enrollment would be five years later, a projection the state agency uses to determine the need for new school space. The school district said the school would open in December 2005 at the earliest.

State funding to build schools often comes as a partial reimbursement of local bond debt, including a portion of the interest. In recent years lawmakers have offered 70 percent reimbursement of the eligible amount. Juneau voters in October 1999 approved $49.9 million in bonds for a new high school, but construction depends on getting some state reimbursement.

State approves Fairbanks gold mine

ANCHORAGE - The state has approved a $30 million gold mine named True North for development near Fairbanks.

Neighborhood concerns about traffic safety and lights from mining interfering with local aurora-viewing businesses were addressed, said Pat Pourchot, state commissioner of Natural Resources.

The developer, Fairbanks Gold Mining Inc., can start Jan. 20, Pourchot said.

The company is owned by Kinross Gold Corp., a Toronto-based mining company that runs the nearby Fort Knox gold mine.

The company intends to produce about 180,000 ounces of gold per year over three years. That would make the mine one-half to one-third the size of Fort Knox. Some 10,000 tons of ore would be trucked daily to Fort Knox, making the mill at that big Interior mine more efficient.

True North will support more than 100 jobs, state officials said.

Death moots retrial

ANCHORAGE - Charles Smithart died over the weekend of lung cancer, which means he won't be facing another trial on charges he raped and killed 11-year-old Mandy Lemaire near Tazlina nearly a decade ago.

Alaska law requires the charges against Smithart be dismissed.

"It literally and figuratively moots the case," Assistant District Attorney James Fayette said about Smithart's death.

The 70-year-old Smithart had been battling his illness at Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage since October. Smithart was convicted in 1993 of abducting, raping and shooting Lemaire to death two years earlier.

He was sentenced to 114 years in prison, but Smithart and his family never stopped insisting on his innocence. The Alaska Supreme Court reversed his conviction last year, ruling that Smithart's defense should have been given more leeway to attack a prosecution witness during the trial.

"Mr. Smithart now goes before the final judge one who knows all and sees all," the victim's father, David Lemaire, said in a statement. "This judge he won't accuse of prejudice, he won't yell at or lie to."

At a new trial, Smithart would have presented new DNA findings and other evidence that he did not kill the girl, defense attorney Andrew Lambert said.

Developers to build large hotel near Denali

FAIRBANKS - Two local developers are building a multimillion, 154-room hotel near the entrance to Denali National Park and Preserve. Jeff Barney and Bill Berglin already own a separate hotel near the new structure.

The Grand Denali Lodge is to open May 14, taking most of its bookings from Royal Celebrity Tours, a Florida-based company, said Frank Rose, president of Alaska Lodging Management, the hotel operator.

The hotel, located above the owners' Denali Bluffs Hotel off the Parks Highway, will include a gift shop, lounge and dinner theater for 85 people, Rose said. Room costs will range from $125 to $199 a night. Cabins will run about $250 a night.

Construction costs for the hotel will run $15 million to $20 million, Barney said.

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