School District ponders next move after bond defeat

ELECTION ROUNDUP: Comeau copes with bond failures; Trombley likely East-side winner.

April 6, 2011 

With two of three school bonds defeated in Tuesday's election, Anchorage school officials have begun looking at what's next. A top priority? Salvaging a $21.3 million state grant for Service High School that hinges on the city kicking in cash of its own.

"We need to match $9 million," said Superintendent Carol Comeau. "I want to make sure that's the focus on the next time around."

Voters turned down a $37.1 million bond proposal that would have more than matched the state grant and completed a $68.4 million remodel at the South Anchorage school. It included money for an auditorium that was clearly unpopular, Comeau said.

The district may have to finish the remodeling in phases or re-think what's critical to the project, she said.

More surprising than rejection of the controversial Service bonds, voters killed a major maintenance proposal for schools -- $16.9 million in roof repairs and the like. That's the type of proposition that often passes.

As a result, the district will substantially decrease its facilities department by cutting positions after the summer construction season, Comeau said.

STILL THE ECONOMY

When she emailed employees after the election asking for their thoughts, Comeau said some mentioned the increasing price of gasoline as a cause for concern and a reason people may have voted down school bonds.

Political consultant Ivan Moore said he can't think of any other reason voters would have turned down the school maintenance bonds except for the economy.

"Alaskans aren't of the perception that we're emerging yet from recession difficulties," he said. Previous surveys he's performed show "people just feeling a little bit nervous," he said.

A LIKELY WINNER IN EAST ANCHORAGE

While East Anchorage Assembly candidates Adam Trombley and incumbent Mike Gutierrez traded leads as more and more precincts were counted Tuesday, Trombley held a convincing lead of 252 votes by the end of the night.

"It would be a very, very tough climb" to overturn that result with absentee ballots, Gutierrez said Wednesday. "The odds are against it."

An unknown number of absentee ballots are out, said city clerk Barbara Gruenstein. They will be counted April 15.

Only ballots received by March 30 were counted with the election day ballots Tuesday, Gruenstein said.

GET YOUR QUARTERS

Those absentee ballots could conceivably change some close contests, including a School Board race between incumbent Pat Higgins and Bob Griffin. Higgins leads by 186 votes. Rounded off, they each won 47 percent.

Another issue on the edge: 50.7 percent of voters approved a city charter change that would allow the city to assign people other than sworn police officers to ticket illegal parkers downtown.

Assuming the lead holds, Mayor Dan Sullivan said Wednesday that he thinks the Anchorage Community Development Authority will take over meter enforcement -- and get to it soon.

That will spell an end to the lax enforcement that exists now, with only officers allowed to ticket.

AND YOUR I.D.

Two-thirds of voters said they agree with mandatory identification checks for anyone trying to buy alcohol in a liquor store. With that mandate in mind, Assembly Chairman Dick Traini said he's going to propose a law later this month to make it happen.

The vote Tuesday was advisory.

While the issue had been sponsored by Gutierrez, Traini said he has no problem adopting the ID issue, given voter sentiment.

THE TURNOUT

Sullivan, at his weekly news conference Wednesday, said he's concerned about the light turnout and suggested the city should study ways to bring more voters to the ballot booth. He mentioned voting on a Saturday -- instead of during the workweek -- and allowing mail-in ballots as possible tactics.

So far, about one in five registered voters actually voted this year.

It could be worse. Gruenstein, the city clerk, said the 41,662 ballots counted this week are still more than the 39,096 cast last year.


Reach Rosemary Shinohara at rshinohara@adn.com or 257-4340.

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