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Story Last modified at 10:38 p.m. on Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Vocational education school bond gets approval from city's voters
Two other school bonds fail

BY MELISSA DeVAUGHN
Alaska Star

Voters on Tuesday turned down two of three Anchorage School District bond propositions, which totaled roughly $71 million. Voters said no to construction and maintenance projects in two of the bonds, but supported one that will beef up career, vocational and technical education training for students throughout the district.

"I'm very, very pleased about Prop 3," said school superintendent Carol Comeau of the unofficial results, which are still awaiting a count of absentee and questioned ballots. "I think it will really enhance our career and technical education in our schools. I'm very disappointed, though, that the Service (High) bond and the building bond did not pass."

As of 9 a.m. Wednesday, and with 99.2 percent of the votes counted, the largest bond, a $37 million renovation and addition project at Service High School, was losing with 56 percent of voters saying no. Bond proposition 2, a $16.8 million service bond, was failing too, with 55 percent against it. Some of the projects from that bond were slated for Mirror Lake Middle School, Eagle River Elementary School and Chugiak High.

Comeau said she knew Prop 1 would be a challenge for voters because of its higher price tag and the opposition some had over the addition of an auditorium at Service High.

"I was very surprised that Prop 2 didn't pass," she said, "but I respect the will of the voters, so we're going to have to sit back and analyze the vote."

Eagle River voter Lee Carpenter said he voted no on the bonds.

"I don't think we have any money to buy anything," the towing company owner said. "We just have to take care of what we got right now. I have to."

Prop 3 totals $17 million, 60 to 70 percent of which the state will pay for as part of its reimbursement plan. The plan calls for a conversion to a Chugiak High classroom from a ski storage room to a career, technical and vocational space, paired with a new dust and ventilation system, all for $1.36 million. Eagle River High also will receive a location for vocational-technical training, although it requires just a $75,000 classroom modification project. It will cost taxpayers an estimate $1.30 per $100,000 of assessed property value.

Gretchen Guess, who on Tuesday won the Seat D School Board seat being vacated by Board president and Eagle River resident John Steiner, said she supported all three bonds, but is particularly happy that Prop 3 passed.

"When we put something in front of the public which they can understand the value coming out of it, it's going to have a better chance passing," she said. "They saw the value in this one."

For Chugiak and Eagle River vocational and technical education students, the passage of Prop 3 means less driving to training that's traditionally only been available at Anchorage's King Career Center.

"These are additions to classrooms – they're not major renovations, they're retrofitting classrooms, so I don't know exactly what it means for the Chugiak-Eagle River schools for when they will be done," Comeau said. "But we will have that information available as soon as we get plans completed."

The downside of the failure of Props 1 and 2, she added, is that some staff will have to go.

"The vast majority of the people in our facilities department, which is supported by our capital projects, will be affected," she said. "We'll have to figure out how to keep some people, but it will be a significantly downsized department."

Zaz Hollander contributed to this report.



This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, April 6, 2011.