Monday, December 8, 2014

Taking the Side of the Train

Stop this train 
I want to get off and go home again 
I can't take the speed it's moving in 
I know I can't but honestly won't someone stop this train
Those lyrics by John Mayer are probable not exactly what the people of Enderlin in North Dakota were thinking when they felt the need to ban trains from taking breaks longer than 10 minutes in their city limits.  This has caused Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. to sue the town according to a report from Reuters.
Partly thanks to North Dakota's energy boom, twenty-eight of the railroad's trains now traverse the city every day. Each carry hundreds of tank cars filled with oil or grain. Some idle as long as four hours, inconveniencing motorists, stranding pedestrians and posing logistical challenges for ambulances and firefighters. 
Desperate for a solution, Enderlin's city councilors last month banned train breaks longer than 10 minutes. The railroad has, in turn, sued the city of nearly 900 in federal court. Canadian Pacific contends the order violates interstate commerce laws. The railroad's lawyers also asked a judge to grant a temporary injunction. 
It appears that this is a classic battle of business desires trumping human safety.  I would guess that business will win out in the battle.  The claim is simple.  A town can not regulate the rail line that is for interstate commerce.  That is the Feds job.

The only problem is when the train sits and sits in the town, it prevents first responders from getting to an emergency on the other side.  

Fighting back, Enderlin said in its own court filings that human safety should trump any financial harm to the company. It's not clear how much Enderlin is spending to defend itself, and city officials did not have data readily available. But Canadian Pacific has asked for the city to pay the railroad's legal fees should it prevail. 
Still, it's a fight Enderlin seems happy to pursue. 
As Scott DeFehr, who has lived in Enderlin for 14 years, wrote in a letter to the court, the city has residents "whose safety and very lives are threatened by the blocking of rail crossings."
It is time to stop caving into oil's needs when weighed against the rights and safety of people.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Argus Leader Nearly Gets It Right

The Sunday Voices section of today's paper had two articles examining failing funding approaches of this administration.  One was a news article from the soon departed David Montgomery about Daugaard's approach to managing the government.   The second was an editorial calling for more funding for education.

The editorial points to new information about a problem that has been well documented and ignore by Pierre for years.  That we will soon not have people to teach our students.
How bad is teacher pay in South Dakota? 
So bad that they are leaving — as more and more teachers retire, fewer are entering. 
According to a report by the School Administrators of South Dakota, 1,004 teachers are eligible for retirement this year. Meanwhile, there are just 726 seniors among education programs prepared to enter the workforce. 
The main factor? Low teacher pay.
These warnings are not new.  Unfortunately there is no reason why we should expect this to change.  In talking about the proposed summer tax increase to help increase education funding, Daugaard makes his position clear.

There is hope, however. A proposed one-cent sales tax hike during the summer months would raise $40 million to $45 million to increase wages, according to Wade Pogany, executive director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota. 
But Daugaard probably won’t be on board.
“I don’t see myself supporting something like that,” he said after his budget address.
So what is an educator to do other than leave?  This is where the editorial staff gets it all wrong.  Their solution is to accept the rejected proposal of 2012 and take incentive-based increases.  Basically, make education worse and the climate worse, and the Governor may throw you a few bones.
Daugaard wanted to make a statewide teacher evaluation system mandatory and partially use student performance to impose merit-based bonuses. Voters said no by a 2-to-1 margin. 
If a compromise on the issue is needed to increase teacher pay, the union should strongly consider it. 
Everyone needs to work together to help avoid the teacher shortage, which will get only worse if nothing is done.
The solution is not accepting bad policy that has been shown to create a more hostile work environment (that is not going to encourage people into going into education).  The teacher union has offered many, many different approaches at compromise.  It is not time for giving in.  We have tried that.  I leave you with a selection of Patrick Henry's words from his speech to the Virginia Convention:
Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves. Sir, we have done everything that could be done, to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne. In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free² if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending²if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained, we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! 
It is time to fight.  It is time to be vocal to both the legislators and executive office.  Teachers need to start descending on Pierre and show up to coffee talks with our legislators.  Put some pressure on Pierre, and then, maybe then, something can be done.  The solution is not bowing before Daugaard for scraps to make things worse.