Ups and Downs gives a quick take on news of the week.
UP: Turnaround grant. Four of Montana’s lowest performing schools will get $11.5 million in federal aid to improve. Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau is leading efforts to dramatically upgrade schools in Frazer, Lame Deer, Pryor and Lodge Grass. The initiative will require big changes, such as extending the school day or school year, finding new leadership and revising principal and teacher evaluations.
UP: Fewer fatalities. Montana is on track to post a second consecutive year of reductions in its highway traffic death toll. As of last week, 23 fewer people had died on Montana roads than at the same point in 2009. Highway deaths are down 20 percent while those related to alcohol use are down 46 percent, according to the Montana Highway Patrol. However, 94 people have died in Montana traffic so far this year and 26 of those deaths were attributed to alcohol use.
UP: Traffic safety. Traffic deaths have decreased so far in 2010 in seven of eight MHP districts, including the Billings district. Traffic deaths in the city of Billings also were lower for the first part of 2010 than in the same periods of the two previous years. That urban trend coincides with the debut of a dedicated traffic enforcement program in the Billings Police Department. Since the first of this year, three patrol officers have been assigned full-time to traffic enforcement with shifts adjusted to cover rush hours and early evening driving. Better traffic enforcement was one of the needs identified in the city’s citizen survey last year.
DOWN: Bears bugged. The mountain pine beetle and the deadly fungus it carries have killed nearly 1 million acres of Yellowstone area forests, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. These high elevation forests of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho are filled with white bark pine trees whose nuts are critical food for grizzlies and other wildlife. Fewer trees mean less food for bears in the mountains, and more reason to forage in lower-elevation areas populated by people.