Alaska News Nightly: March 3, 2008

The State Senate passes education funding improvements. Plus, a National Science Foundation grant will help preserve 11 Alaska Native languages. Also, Iditarod leaders are setting a fast pace and there’s a new scam targeting Alaska seniors. Those stories and more on tonight’s Alaska News Nightly, broadcast statewide on APRN stations.

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Reports say Jim Clark has agreed to plead guilty to fraud
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
The Anchorage Daily News is reporting that former Governor Frank Murkowski’s chief of staff Jim Clark has agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge of fraud. The paper is reporting that Clark admitted asking VECO officials to illegally spend more than $68,000 on polls and political consultants for Murkowski’s failed re-election bid in 2006. This comes as the latest case brought by the federal government in the Alaska political corruption scandal.

Senate approves education funding formula
Dave Donaldson, APRN – Juneau
The Senate today had the final word on the legislature’s rewrite of the formula the state uses to pay for local school operations. They agreed with the House version without change. The bill that was based on the recommendations of a legislative task force that met over the summer passed on a sixteen to four vote and with a final, favorable vote tomorrow will go to the Governor Palin.

Iditarod off to fast start
Libby Casey, APRN – Finger Lake
Norweigan Kjetil Backen is in the lead of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. He blew through the Rainy Pass checkpoint at 1:21 this afternoon with 15 dogs. Rainy Pass is 180 miles into the race. Backen has placed as high as third in two past Iditarods as part of “Team Norway.” Also through Rainy Pass are Nenana’s Aaron Burmeister, Gerry Willomitzer of Whitehorse, and Paul Gebhardt of Kasilof. At last check 11 teams were resting at the checkpoint, including past champs Mitch Seavey and Jeff King, Sigrid Ekran of Norway, Ramey Smith, and Dee Dee Jonrowe.

New federal grant for preserving Alaska Native languages
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage
A National Science Foundation grant will help linguists work to preserve 11 Alaska Native languages over the next 3 years. Dr. Michael Krauss, Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks will head up the $1.2 million project working with language specialists from the U.S., Russia and Japan. Krauss says Alaska’s native languages are more endangered than ever

Southeast campaign roundup
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
Seven of Southeast’s 8 legislative seats are before voters this year. So far, only 2 races are contested. But potential candidates still have 3 months to decide to run.

New scam threatens Alaska seniors
Len Anderson, KSKA – Anchorage
Alaskan seniors need to beware a telephone scam threatening to stop social security and medicare benefits if they don’t supply personal banking information.

Turning wood scraps into boats
Alec Dickinson, KRBD – Ketchikan
A boat-builder on Prince of Wales Island is converting scraps from timber mills into ultra-light boats.