Bond measures would upgrade school buildings, roads

Posted: Sunday, October 13, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Joe Slats wants Alaskans to vote yes on Bonding Proposition C. The Yupiit School District superintendent believes first-graders in Tuluksak should not have to put their coats on when they go to the bathroom.

Bathrooms are next door at a mechanical building. The school's kitchen was appropriated for a classroom, as was a teacher apartment. For lunch, students walk to the high school three to four blocks away. Space claimed from a boiler room serves for tutoring students who need extra help.

If voters approve Bonding Proposition C, the state will issue $236.8 million in bonds to improve public schools, like the Tuluksak school, plus money for University of Alaska and museum projects, one of two major capital project proposals on the ballot.

The other is Bonding Proposition B, authorizing the state to issue bonds for $226.7 million in transportation projects.

It's the first bond package for the state in more than 20 years. Voters last approved bonds in 1980 for fishery facilities, roads, prisons and other projects.

No group has registered with the Alaska Public Office Commission to campaign against the bonds.

Passing the school bond could actually trigger more spending on schools. If approved, the measure would also allow a separate school debt reimbursement program to take effect for projects approved from 1999 through 2005. Communities that approve their own bonding measures for schools would receive up to 70 percent reimbursement.

The deal was made by lawmakers so urban voters would have an incentive to back bonds benefiting Bush schools.

Legislators' refusal to pay for upgrades of schools in rural areas, where construction costs are high and economies of scale low, prompted a successful lawsuit by rural residents.

Superior Court Judge John Reese ruled in the Kasayulie case, named for the first plaintiffs listed, that the Legislature has provided inadequate school facilities in rural areas. Reese said lawmakers passed over projects ranked highest on the Department of Education's lists for repair and replacement, many in districts with predominantly Native populations, in favor of urban schools.

Legislators countered that there simply has not been enough money to pay for new schools and that urban schools also could have protested.

Reese did not immediately order remedial action.

Slats, the superintendent of the three-village Yupiit School District, has seen needs in rural schools firsthand. The school bonds include $17.7 million for school improvements at Tuluksak, a village of about 430 on the Kuskokwim River 35 miles northeast of Bethel. The improvement probably will be a new school to replace aged, separate elementary and high school buildings.

''We have some excellent programs,'' Slats said, ''but our facilities, they really need to be replaced.''

Tuluksak's elementary school was built when the Bureau of Indian Affairs taught village school children and is now decrepit and overcrowded, Slats said.

The bond issue includes $166.1 million for major projects at Akiak, Akiachak, Scammon Bay, Teller, Hooper Bay, Circle and Naukati plus improvements at 44 others.

Another $61.7 million would be spent on university projects. More than a third, $21.5 million, is designated for a bioscience class and laboratory at UA Fairbanks. UA Anchorage is in line for an $8.4 million science facility and $9 million would go for a fisheries laboratory in Juneau, another UAF facility.

The bond also includes $4.7 million for a biomedical facility addition in Anchorage, $3.9 million for classroom renovations at Ketchikan and $1.5 million for a building in Valdez. Other money would pay for renovations at UA facilities around the state.

University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton wants to give researchers a place to go to work. The simple answer for why the measure should be approved, Hamilton said, is need.

''We have a whole series of schools that are very much in need of repairs,'' he said.

Bonding Proposition B, regarding transportation projects, like the school proposition, would pay for projects all over the state.

The ballot proposition includes $123.9 million in traditional general obligation bonds to be paid back from the state general fund and $102.8 million worth of GARVEE bonds, which stands for Grant Anticipated Revenue Vehicle. The latter are to be paid back with money the state expects from federal grants for highway construction.

Though GARVEE projects add bonding expense to the cost of construction, they could save state money in the long run, according to the department. Projects low on the department's priority list would be built before inflation boosted their costs.

Department officials also say money generated by the sale of the bonds could be banked and interest could be used to pay the state's 10 percent match of federal payments, saving general fund money.

GARVEE bonds would pay for eight projects ranging from a $1.5 million street improvement in Bethel to a $36.1 million extension of C Street in Anchorage.

The traditional bonds would pay for 21 projects, including a $37.5 million extension of Abbott Loop, $13.2 million for Old Glenn Highway rehabilitation in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and $8 million for Fairbanks downtown street improvements.

The measure also contains money for road projects in Donlin Creek, the Kenai Peninsula, Ketchikan, Kotzebue, Nome, Sitka and Wasilla plus harbor projects for Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka, Petersburg, Wrangell, Yakutat, Klawock, Seldovia, Cordova and Whittier.

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