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Across The Lake

There's a lesson in here somewhere and it seems to be this: If you work hard and try your best, someone else gets the reward. The school boards in Blackduck and Kelliher and Northome must all be thinking the same thing and people living in those school districts must be wondering, too. The state Board of Education in effect says failure is the way to get ahead and they've proved their thinking to the tune of $25 million.

That's right. $25 million for failing. Nineteen Minnesota schools got that recognition and they'll split the $25 million. Well, they'll get it but probably not until after the state takes a cut "for administrative purposes." That's what usually happens and the way the state runs the schools, it's to be expected. The $25 million is in federal funds and the schools chosen were all picked because they were failing and have agreed to make changes the state says are acceptable and on which it insists.

Four of the 19 schools, by the way, said "no thanks" and will keep on trying to get better but without the strings that always come with help from Big Brother. Big Sister, in this case -- Patricia King, Minnesota's Director of Turnaround Schools. She's the one who decided that all those federal dollars (your money, in case you've forgotten) will go schools including Red Lake Senior High, Ponemah Elementary and Cass Lake-Bena secondary.

They'll all have to get new principals or assistants as part of the requirement to get the money. Even when there's no new money involved, the state is great at telling schools what they have to do. Blackduck was just told it has to put in a new sprinkler system, not because the old one doesn't do the job but because the state has set new standards in the code. The new buses Blackduck needs will cost about $12,000 more -- per bus -- because of new exhaust emission stipulations.

Lurking in the background in those new grants is the question, why? How much is politics involved? How much money in state and federal grants and gifts and benefits has already gone to these same schools? Your guess is as good as mine.

Blackduck Schools just got a grant but you have to hope it doesn't prove confusing to voters. The grant was for $137,316. That's half of the projected cost for energy efficiency improvements. Fixing a leaky roof doesn't improve energy efficiency, nor does keeping a brick wall from falling apart. Those are items to actually be decided on in Tuesday's election.

The Woodcarver's annual event was, for those without shade, a hot success. Looking at the grounds the next day reminded me again of Billy Averill. We knew him when he was lot superintendent for a carnival. Ray Cammack is dead now but his carnival was big, and now it's one of the biggest in the country. Billy Averill's job there was to see that every ride and every concession was spotted in the right place despite the many arguments about who got the choice locations. Then, when the play date -- the show's run -- was over, he made sure everyone moved out on time.

Other times, he'd sit in the pay wagon, pull out a sack of Bull Durham, and roll a cigarette while unrolling a saga of carny tales. A favorite was how he climbed atop the pay wagon one time in Saskatchewan and sat there while a "Hey -- Rube" broke out on the grounds. It got pretty rough until an RCMP officer showed up. The Mountie took one look at the men fighting, raised a gloved hand and commanded "Desist!" And, said Billy, "They did. Just like that. The fight was over and the crowd dispersed." He kept wishing police in this country commanded that respect.

What made the Woodcarver's connection was how as at a carnival or fair, there's always a lot of loose change around. After the carnival, Billy didn't really give anyone a concession, but he would tell the grubbers where to look. They'd show up with their metal detectors and start hunting for the dimes and quarters that slipped out of pockets or purses and on sandy lots, some would even carry rakes to scratch things up. Maybe that's where the phrase "money-grubbers" got started.

Got a clipping in the mail about the Dakotas. The publisher of an Oregon newspaper visited both North and South Dakota and was obviously impressed by what he saw, ranging from the mountain carvings at Mount Rushmore to Teddy Roosevelt's time in the North Dakota badlands. Stephen Forrester seemed particularly impressed by seeing a small herd -- maybe 20 head -- of buffalo -- crossing the Little Missouri river. Guess you don't see that too often around Astoria, OR.

Too bad he wasn't around for the buffalo round-up in South Dakota's Custer State Park. Seeing cowboys on horseback taking part in the annual movement of several hundred head of buffalo -- bison, more accurately -- is a sight to behold, but just seeing that many is enough to bring tourist cameras into action. And actually, seeing some of them in the herds around here is exciting, too.

Forrester mentions visiting Fort Mandan, which was the starting point for General Custer's march to the Little Big Horn, but he doesn't seem to have heard the old story Democrats, like former governor Bill Guy, liked to tell at political events. According to the story, which alludes to Custer's own political aspirations, as the general left Mandan there was a Republican rally underway. Custer told the Republicans, "Don't do anything till I get back." And, said Guy, "they haven't."

Thoughts while drying the dishes... As kids we used to thumb our nose at someone to express extreme displeasure. That was before the advent of the extended middle-finger salute. This came to mind when I was leafing through the pages of a British magazine. An article about that same sort of feeling in politics seems to have been expressed in their headline: "Cocking a snuke." Maybe that's what BP did in the Gulf.