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Alaska and Yukon Headlines
Coast Guard Begins Kulluk Hearing
Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage
Monday, the U.S. Coast Guard began a week-long probe of the grounding of the drilling rig Kulluk last New Year’s Day on an island south of Kodiak. The rig was being towed to Seattle when it broke loose in bad weather and ended up going aground. APRN’s Steve Heimel was at the hearing today at the Anchorage Assembly chambers.
Circle Residents Clean Up After Flooding
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Residents of Circle are cleaning up after an ice jam on the Yukon River caused extensive flooding in the community on Sunday.
Fishermen Found Guilty, Although Court Agrees Subsistence Salmon Fishing Is Religious
Angela Denning-Barnes, KYUK – Bethel
The Kuskokwim fishermen trial resumed Monday in Bethel. Last June, about 50 fishermen were cited for illegal salmon fishing. Half of them pleaded not guilty and have been fighting it in court ever since.
Pavlof Ash Falls On Sand Point
Lauren Rosenthal, KUCB – Unalaska
Pavlof Volcano continued to erupt over the weekend, spitting a plume of ash that reached 22,000 feet into the sky.
State Proposes $50 Million For ANWR Development
Peter Granitz, APRN – Washington DC
Governor Sean Parnell says he’s willing to ask the state legislature for fifty million dollars in next year’s budget to discover the true volume of oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.
Joe Miller Ordered To Pay $85,000 In Alaska Dispatch Legal Fees
Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage
Former Republican U.S. Senate nominee Joe Miller has not yet said if he will appeal an award of court costs to an internet news organization that sued to get his personnel records in 2010.
Ketchikan Breaks World Rainboot Race Record
Leila Kheiry, KRBD – Ketchikan
Nearly 2,000 people turned out in Ketchikan Saturday afternoon to break to Guinness World Record for the largest rainboot race.
Alaska Cultural Connections: Cross Cultural Communication
Anne Hillman, APRN Contributor
Nuiqsut is both one of the newest communities on the North Slope and one of the oldest. The area was inhabited for centuries by the Iñupiat, and then abandoned for Barrow.
In 1973 former community members decided to resettle the area and build a village far from the bustle of the regional hub. But just 25 years later, the bustle came to them in the form of Alpine Oil field.
For our series on culture in Alaska, APRN contributor Anne Hillman found out how the oil company and the community have learned to communicate with one another.
More than 30 states across the country have gotten waivers from No Child Left Behind. That lets them judge schools with their own measures instead of the federal standards. Today, Alaska joined that bunch. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.
Last year, more than half of Alaska’s schools got a failing grade under No Child Left Behind. Next year would have been even worse, according to the state’s Department of Education and Early Development. Deputy Commissioner Les Morse says that not a single school in the state would have passed.
“Next year, every school had to have all their students — 100 percent of their students — at proficient. That includes every student who might be struggling in learning, a brand new student to the country who might not know English … All of the them would have to score proficient on the assessments. Otherwise, the school would be deemed as a failing school under the current law.”
On top of the black eye of getting a failing grade, schools would have had to tie up funding in federally mandated tutoring programs. And they would have had to put money toward letting kids transfer to passing schools. Morse says that would have been tricky if there weren’t any passing schools.
“If every school is failing, it’s at a point where that just doesn’t make sense.”
So, like a lot of states, Alaska applied for an exemption from the federal education law. What that means is that instead of being judged primarily on math and reading proficiency tests, things like attendance, the number of kids who take the SAT, and the annual improvement that students show will also be taken into account. And instead of passing or failing, schools will get star ratings, with five being the best — kind of like movie reviews.
Morse says that because the state will now be taking a more complex approach to gauging student achievement, some of the tests will even be harder. The difference is that schools won’t be faced with an automatic failing grade if some students don’t pass the standards test, and they’ll be given a chance to target specific areas of improvement.
“By no means is the waiver is the waiver saying that we think we ought to give up on any child,” says Morse. “Actually, we’ve raised the standards, but now instead of saying we want kids to meet a minimum, we’re actually going to build supports and targets to help make sure kids, when they graduate from high school are ready for college if they want to go to college or any post-secondary training opportunity.”
Opinion on the waiver has been generally positive. The Alaska Council of School Administrators says they’re embracing it, while the Alaska Association of School Boards calls it a step forward. But Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski did show some skepticism toward the waiver, suggesting that it could be a “half measure” that replaces federal regulations with a similar set of requirements.
Anchorage School District administrators are reacting to the U.S. Department of Education’s announcement that Alaska will receive a waiver from the ‘No Child Left Behind’ (NCLB) law.
Vernon Campbell is Executive Director of Federal Programs for the ASD. He says the district is pleased that the state got the waiver, mainly because, under NCLB, the district had to set aside money to help low-income students, even if they were highly proficient.
The waiver will allow the district the flexibility to concentrate those funds on the academically neediest, not just the poorest.
“There’s more flexibility for the district to utilize, I’m gonna say about 30 percent of its funds in ways that make better sense to the district. Following the previous formula we were required to say tutor students while they were low income they might have been highly proficient but under rule we had to tutor them. Under waiver we’ll have more flexibility of concentrating those funds on students that are the academic neediest,” Campbell said.
He says the district has been implementing changes, working up the waiver, for some time.
“The adoption of common core standards is part of the waiver package. The other thing is the new teacher and principal evaluation system, which will find student achievement being a feature of their evaluation. That’s been around since December of this past year. And so folks need to realize that those are features of the waivers. They’re assurances that the state gave in order to receive the flexibility waivers,” Campbell said.
Campbell says students will still be required to take the Alaska Standards Based Assessment test, but the waiver will eliminate some testing. The waivers go into effect at the beginning the school year next fall.
Lydia Foster teaches Raven how to say “it’s tasty” in her family’s language. Lydia’s family is from southeast Alaska and they speak Sm’algyax.
The Sm’algyax words for it’s tasty, is ts’imaatk.
Raven puppet © 2012 Axtell Expressions, Inc.
Alaska Pacific University is lowering their tuition more than 30 percent. The president of the Anchorage private liberal arts college says the change will make a college education more affordable for Alaskans, and hopefully, boost their enrollment.
Around the country, college tuition has been going up, outpacing the income growth of average Americans. Don Bantz, the President of Alaska Pacific University, says the APU Board decided to end that trend at their school.
“Affordability is the number one issue in higher education today. There’s a lot of talk about student debt and questioning the value of a higher education. We’re trying to make private, quality, liberal arts education affordable for Alaskans. And the $29,000 sticker price turned a lot of people off. They didn’t even wanna go any further,” Bantz said.
APU’s board decided at their regular meeting on May 16 to reduce tuition by nearly $10,000 per year– from $29,600 to $19,950. The 33 percent cut, Bantz says, makes APU more competitive with out-of-state colleges.
Bantz has been president at APU for three years. Before that he worked at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. Bantz says APU has been giving students discounts on tuition for some time now, in order to make it affordable. Instead of continuing to discount, he says, the APU board decided to reduce tuition to what students were actually paying.
“If you want to send your kid outside to any of the big publics on the west coast – Washington, Oregon, all the way down. You’re gonna pay, out of state, about the same that you would pay here now for this private education. And you’re going to be in class sizes of 8, 9, 10 to 1 versus 300, 400, 500 to 1,” Bantz said.
The university has income from other sources, endowments and land holdings to off set the loss of tuition revenue.
Bantz says APU would like to grow, but emphasizes that the University intends to keep class sizes small.
Tuition at University of Alaska Anchorage is much cheaper, at around $4,000 for Alaska residents and around $14,000 for out-of-state students. Alaska Pacific University is four-year liberal arts college with around 600 students. The secular university, which is affiliated with the Methodist church, opened it’s doors in 1960. It offers two-year, four-year, master’s and doctorate level programs. The tuition cut only applies to undergraduate tuition. In-state and out-of-state tuition are the same at APU. The tuition cut goes into effect at the beginning of the 2014 school year.
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A Homer flightseeing operator with visions of operating a heliport on the Homer Spit is one step closer to his goal. The Homer City Council narrowly defeated an effort to exclude heliports form a series of new zoning rules.
In front of the council Monday night was a pair of ordinances dealing with what types of businesses and structures are allowed in the city’s marine industrial and commercial zones, in keeping with the 2010 Homer Spit Comprehensive Plan.
The process to come up with the changes began a year ago with several city commissions taking part in its development.
The city Planning Commission original decided against the inclusion of heliports in the new zoning rules, citing concerns that the noise of helicopter operations might have on visitors and businesses, as well as the local bird population.
Public testimony on the matter also centered exclusively on heliports with some folks – like Homer Air owner Dave Rush – opposed.
“I think it would give the current operators a disadvantage,” said Rush.
Eric Lee is a pilot and manager of Bald Mountain Air, a floatplane flightseeing operation that takes off from Homer’s Beluga Lake. Lee said it was partly his idea to someday build a heliport out on the Spit.
“Homer wants more money (and) more participation from tourists … Homer wants cruise ships (and) tax revenue,” said Lee. “And to eliminate the possibility of further business activities seems to go against that idea.”
It was council member Beau Burgess who moved to strike the planning commission’s wording excluding heliports from the new zoning rules. He claimed responsibility Monday night for starting a ruckus over the issue.
“I feel the role of government should be limited so far as there is a clear public mandate and a discussion for addressing this,” said Burgess.
Council members went back and forth on the issue for the better part of an hour. They voted down a motion by David Lewis to allow helicopter take-offs and landings with certain restrictions and also struck down – by a tie vote – another motion to restore the original language that would have banned heliports.
When it came time to vote on the overall ordinance, the absence of Mayor Beth Wythe became a factor. Because Wythe was not there to exercise her right to break a tie vote, a 3 to 3 tie among council members meant that the whole ordinance tanked.
When council member Bryan Zak moved for immediate reconsideration of the vote, the debate intensified, with Burgess pointing out that the council was about to throw out months of work by the planning commission.
After rejecting a motion by council member James Dolma to postpone the matter, the council finally voted 5 to 1 – with Dolma the only holdout – to approve the zoning changes.
It’s important to note that heliports were already allowed on the Homer Spit, but only after their operators applied for and received a conditional use permit from the city. Those same rules are still in effect after the changes were passed Monday.
Alaska continues to add jobs to its seasonal economy.
The preliminary statewide unemployment rate for April is 6 percent, the lowest since mid-2007. It dropped a full percentage point from April 2012.
Nationally, unemployment last month was 7.5 percent.
Once again, Juneau and the North Slope Borough boast the lowest rate in Alaska, at 4-point-4 percent.
But it’s the actual numbers that tell the story, and in Southeast this time of year, jobs are being added in the seafood, construction, and tourism industries.
Caroline Schultz is an economist for the state labor department.
“Juneau added about 100 jobs in accommodation and food services and 400 in all of leisure and hospitality from March to April, so that’s pretty good growth over the month in leisure and hospitality, about 15 percent growth,” Schultz says. “And it will keep growing until it peaks in the mid-summer.”
She says 300 construction jobs were added between March and April, a 20 percent increase for that industry. And the Southeast seafood industry also grew by 300 jobs for the month.
The seasonal employment throughout the state may help lessen the blow of a statewide loss of federal jobs.
The federal jobs are tracked over the year rather than monthly. The loss in Southeast Alaska is slower than the rest of the state, according to Schultz.
She says Interior Alaska lost 500 federal jobs over the year.
“Fairbanks has the bases and there are also a lot of natural resource-oriented federal jobs up there too, like Park Service and Denali, those kinds of jobs,” she says. “But definitely the military bases are probably the biggest driver.”
Schultz says it’s still too early in the tourism season to know the extent of job loss of federal jobs in Alaska’s national parks and preserves.
Bill Hanson is the Field Supervisor of the Juneau Field Office for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Southeast Alaska. His office is responsible for recovery efforts and restoration programs in Southeast Alaska.
“Sometimes we look at species and we think ‘well does it make a difference if one disappears or another one disappears’ and the main thing to remember this is that each of those species represents some portion of that ecological network. So if you look at one species disappearing it’s not just one species disappearing it’s actually all the interactions that relate to it.”
U.S. Fish and Wildlife manages some marine mammals including the polar bear, walrus and sea otters. They also manage almost all of the endangered terrestrial species of animals and plants as well as freshwater fish. They work in conjunction with the National Marine Fisheries Servicewhich also has a field office in Juneau. (Here’s a full list of endangered, threatened and candidate species in Alaska)
Marine Fisheries manages all of the other endangered marine mammals including whales, sea lions, seals, saltwater fish, and turtles.
Hanson says that Southeast Alaska doesn’t have very many endangered species compared to other parts of the country or Alaska, but a there are number of species including the Short-tailed Albatross, sea otters and a variety of whales that are monitored.
“A species doesn’t become listed unless it’s in real trouble. Once it’s listed, we go into the next phase which is recovery. Recovery doesn’t just mean getting it above the line which would be it’s either threatened or not threatened. It’s getting it back to healthy populations. That can take a long time and in some cases maybe it’s not possible. We don’t ever know the full answer to that. Success can be measured in a lot of different ways. Ideally, complete recovery is the measure of success and in other cases it maybe that we simply prevent it from becoming extinct.”
The specific reasons that a species becomes endangered can vary widely but most fall into one of two categories: either the species has lost its habitat for some reason or something has caused the species to not be able to function normally such as pesticides or pollution.
There have been success stories. In the Lower 48, the Bald Eagle was once on the edge of extinction due to pesticides, but after it was added to the Endangered Species List and pesticides were more carefully cleaned up and regulated, the birds bounced back.
In Alaska, the Arctic Peregrine Falcon and the Aleutian Canada goose were both successfully recovered.
Hanson says the most important thing to remember is that it’s never just one species that’s in danger because everything in an ecosystem in connected. When one species is endangered, they often represent a broader range of species than just themselves.
The Coast Guard opens an investigative hearing into January’s grounding of the drilling rig Kulluk off Kodiak Island today.
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, formerly part of the Minerals Management Service, will also participate, as well as the National Transportation Safety Board, all wanting to know how come a powerful tug lost power in the Gulf of Alaska and the huge rig repeatedly broke its tow.
First up today will be Shell, followed by teleconference testimony from Offshore Rig Movers, International.
“Mel Brooks: Make a Noise” profiles the larger-than-life, yet very private comedy giant. He has never authorized a biography and has requested that his friends not talk about him, making his participation in this AMERICAN MASTERS film a genuine first. Features new interviews with Brooks, Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Cloris Leachman, Carl Reiner and Joan Rivers.
- TV: Monday, 5/20 at 8:00pm
While most creative talents leave Alaska for the chance of more exposure in big cities, Emma Hill is not only making a living as a musician in her home state, she’s thriving.
Hill grew up in the small Alaskan village of Sleetmute and in this episode of INDIE ALASKA, she talks about growing up in Alaska and the pros and cons of pursuing a creative career in the far north.
INDIE ALASKA is an original video series produced by Alaska Public Media in partnership with PBS Digital Studios.
The weekly videos will capture the diverse and colorful lifestyles of everyday Alaskans at work and at play. Together, these videos will present a fresh and authentic look at living in Alaska.
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