Travis Grimler and Dan Determan
Diligent students will hit the books in area school districts when school resumes next week. Following is information for the Pequot Lakes and Pine River-Backus school districts, who will welcome most students back Tuesday, Sept. 4, the day after Labor Day. Pine River-Backus Tuesday, Sept. 4, is indeed the first day of school for everyone from kindergarten to 12th grade in the Pine River-Backus School District. Only preschool students will have different start dates this year, though official start times will be different for older students.
In the land of 10,000 lakes, it's no surprise that weekend revelers enjoy mixing a sunny day on the lake with cold beverages. But it's also important to remember that there is a legal limit for operating a watercraft and imbibing in alcohol. Like driving a car, you cannot operate a watercraft with an electric or gas powered motor above the state limit of .08 percent blood alcohol level. "Drinking and operating a boat is basically the same as drinking and driving a car, so we are looking for the same types of impairment," Crow Wing County deputy Todd Holk said.
Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) scores have been released for schools throughout the state, and area school districts are cautiously comparing their scores to state averages. Minnesota's statewide proficiency has dropped by three-tenths of a percentage from 60.5 in 2014 to 60.2 in 2015. Locally, Pine River-Backus (PR-B) has seen a district-wide increase from 45.6 percent proficient to 47.8 percent proficient.
Legislators from both parties expressed disappointment in the results of the latest Minnesota Legislative Session. State Representative Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township, described the session as unsuccessful. "In my view we did not accomplish the people's work..." Anzelc said. "When you look at the bills that were passed and the bills that were not passed and the bills that were not heard in the House of Representatives, this was most definitely not a session that was friendly to a rural Minnesota.
With fuel prices at significantly lower costs, local school districts are seeing cost savings compared to 2013-2014. PR-B's transportation budget reported $70,305.19 in fuel costs in Feb. 2014, whereas Feb. 2015 reported $60,004.62. A look at the overall utility costs shows an even bigger savings. "Bus garage gas/diesel expenses dropped by $10,301 and overall utilities are $14,478 below this time last year," said Pine River-Backus Business Manager Jolene Bengtson. "The drop in transportation fuel has been a big savings for us.
The winter of 2014-15 sticks out among septic companies as a bad year for freezing. "There is a lot of freezing going on right now," said Rick Smith, president of Northland Septic in Hackensack. "It's similar to 2008 and 2001 or 2002." The major factors that lead to freeze-ups are the lack of snow and low temperatures.
Area food shelves are reporting an increase in new clients, though reasons appear to differ from location to location. Some local shelves have located as many as seven new clients, though the average is slightly smaller. "We see probably three or four new households come in each month to check in and come for the very first time," said Jodi Perry, Pine River Area Food Shelf coordinator. These new clients are individuals and families that have never come to the local food shelf before, meaning they are either new to the area or newly in need.
Many businesses in the lakes area depend on customers who are not exactly local, but during winters like this where snow is lacking, those customers are also sometimes rare. Food, lodging, gasoline and many other services throughout the area depend on snowmobilers during the slow winter months. These managers and business owners recognize and depend on locals, but tourists and visitors are incredibly important, especially in the lodging industry. "During the winter this is our slow season.
With the arrival of true winter temperatures, some school children and parents were anticipating school closings or late starts this week. But it takes more than below zero temperatures to keep a good school down in Minnesota. Pine River-Backus Superintendent Cathy Bettino and Transportation Director Tom Bristow determine school closings for that district. Together, they take many weather conditions into account. "We just kind of keep an eye on the weather and, depending on the situation, we make decisions based on what we are seeing.
With the Minnesota legislative session convening Tuesday, Jan. 6, area legislators and legislators-elect say MNsure health plans, roads and highways, and tax reform will be among the biggest topics of discussion. "It's going to be the basics. It's going to be things like our economy and roads and bridges. The building blocks of how you run a state," said Rep.-elect Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa. "That's going to be, I think, 90 percent of the discussion." Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, agreed that roads and bridges would be a big topic. "I think the top issue will be transportation.