Roundup: Cold Snap and Rural Schools

Too cold for school • Nitrates in the Raccoon River • Healthcare startup in Northern California • Georgia's economy slow to get up • Building animal bridges in Montana • Factory closes, small town in danger • Advocating for a rural voice in Massachusetts • Richer schools get better teachers in Missouri

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For all its diversity, there’s one scene that’s pretty common in rural America: kids bundled up to face the morning cold, stamping their feet while waiting for school bus to arrive.

While some school districts closed because of arctic temperatures this week, other schools gave kids no break.

“Is it cold? Yes. But we live where we live,” said Bryan Thygeson, superintendent of Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton schools in Minnesota, just over the state line from Fargo, North Dakota.

Meanwhile, Minneapolis, Anoka-Hennepin and other Twin Cities districts closed Wednesday because of bitter cold, reports Inforum.com.

Hundreds of districts in Ohio closed yesterday, as did Kansas City, Missouri, schools. Boston public schools are closed today. Many others delayed opening by up to two hours.

But for other schools, it was business as usual.

 “It’s all relative to what you are used to,” Thygeson said. 

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The Des Moines, Iowa, water-works board is expected to vote today to pursue a lawsuit against three Iowa counties that have high concentrations of nitrates flowing into the Raccoon River.

The water board says it had to start expensive water treatment when nitrate levels rose in the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers, which are the source of drinking water for the city.

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A doctor doing end-of-life care and counseling in Northern California had a problem: The hospital he worked for couldn’t and wouldn’t budget the time and money for him to visit his most isolated patients, trips that sometimes involved flying to their homes. The solution? Quit the hospital gig and form a startup.

"I had to sort out an out-of-the-box solution," [Dr. Michael Fratkin] says.

He calls his new company ResolutionCare. There's no office, no clinic. Instead he wants to put the money for those resources into hiring a team of people who can travel and make house calls, so that very ill patients don't have to get to the doctor's office. When time is stretched, he plans to use video conferencing.

The key challenge is financing his big idea. Government programs like Medicare and Medicaid don't pay for video sessions when the patient is at home. And they pay poorly for home visits.

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The Atlantic magazine takes a peek at why Georgia’s economy has slumped while other states have rebounded after the 2008 financial collapse. Spoiler alert: They think it boils down to the governor’s belief that government should “get out of the way and let the private sector stimulate the economy.”

“This is what a state looks like when you have a hands-off, laissez-faire approach to the economy,” said Michael Wald, a former Bureau of Labor Statistics economist in Atlanta. “Georgia is basically a low-wage, low-tax, low-service state, that’s the approach they’ve been taking for a very long time.”

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University of Montana engineers are building bridges and tunnels to help animals stay clear of interstate traffic. This was a condition of widening Highway 93 where it meets the Flathead Indian Reservation. The tribe wanted to minimize the impact on wildlife. 

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The Verso paper mill, an 84-year-old plant that accounted for 44 percent of the tax base in Bucksport, Maine, closed last month. The town was devastated. Not only did they lose close to 500 jobs, the closure also threatens to rip the community apart as people now look elsewhere for work.

One of those moving out is John Bakeman, a 60-year-old millworker who put his house on the market the day after the shutdown announcement.

“A way of life is coming to an end to another small town in Maine,” said Bakeman, who worked at the mill for 38 years. “I’m looking for employment in the Bangor area, but I know I’ll never make the money I was making here.”

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Some folks in Massachusetts are pushing for the formation of a governmental office that will lend a voice to people living in the state’s rural areas.

"The long and short of it is rural areas … because of their isolation, because of their lack of proximity to Boston and the fact that so many of them are so small, they often don't get the kind of attention that larger communities do," said Rita Farrell, an Amherst-based senior adviser to the Massachusetts Housing Partnership.

Charlie Baker, the state’s governor-elect, is "not a big believer in building new bureaucracies," according to MassLive.com.

But Baker said he understands the need to appoint people in his administration who understand the state's diversity of issues. "I certainly think we need to make sure and be mindful of the fact that the issues that face folks who live in rural parts of Massachusetts are different from the ones that face people who live in our cities," Baker said.

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Teachers working in Missouri’s rural and poor schools are less experienced than those working in more urban, wealthy schools, according to a report the state is submitting to the U.S. Education Department. The report also looks at salary discrepancies:

Teachers in Missouri's wealthiest schools earned an adjusted average salary of $59,794.06, the report shows, compared to $49,733.95 in the poorest schools and $48,219.20 in the most rural schools.

 

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