A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

23 September 2017 — 2233 mdt

Note to readers

Thanks for visiting Flathead Memo. Our chief blogger and janitor has been waylaid by events and microbes, but hopes to resume posting on 24 or 25 September.

 

21 September 2017 — 1629 mdt

Deer Park bond failure underscores need for school district consolidation

Proponents of the $26.5 million bond for a new Muldown elementary school in Whitefish probably experienced cold chills late Tuesday when they learned that the $3 million Deer Park elementary bond was rejected resoundingly by the district’s voters, 126 for and 207 against.

Deer Park, a rural district south of Columbia Falls that dates to 1886, is one of the Flathead’s smallest school districts, and its elementary school spends less per student that any other Flathead school district.

The defeat of the Deer Park bond probably is not a harbinger of the outcome of the 3 October Muldown bond election, for which ballots were mailed last Friday. Although Whitefish is asking for almost ten times as much money, its much larger tax base means the Muldown bond’s burden on individual taxpayers will be only 40 percent of the burden that Deer Park’s voters rejected.

Deer Park’s predicament — an aging, failing, inadequate physical plant, and too small a tax base for a first class school — underscores the need to consolidate the Flathead’s smallest school districts with their larger neighbors. Deer Park should be subsumed by the Columbia Falls District, Onley/Bissell by Whitefish, and so forth. Consolidation won’t save that much money as salaries will rise in the subsumed small districts, but it will equalize the burden on the taxpayers, produce administrative efficiencies, and provide more educational resources for the students.

The old country school is a wonderful part of American history, but as the Deer Park district’s inability to arrest the decay of its facilities reminds us, it’s an institution whose time passed decades ago.

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19 September 2017 — 2225 mdt

Observations on the Flathead cyber-extortion incident

The ransom letter, and the experience of a group that paid the ransom. The Flathead Beacon, which is providing outstanding coverage of the event, has the latest details, and links to the extortionist’s ransom letter. The extortionist is the same person or group that hacked Hollywood in recent years. In one case (Variety report) a hacked group paid a Bitcoin ransom, but the hijacked information was released anyway because the hacked had notified the FBI (Variety report). Paying the ransom demanded of the Columbia Falls school district is an option that sober judgment will reject. The task now is mitigating the damage done, and making sure there’s never again an unauthorized opening of the barn door.

Flathead Sheriff Chuck Curry was right to release the ransom letter

Releasing the letter undoubtedly helped convince many that the risk of a school bombing or shooting was virtually nil. Our authorities now need to release verbatim transcripts of the threats, names and personal information redacted. Not releasing that information, perhaps with the intention of not frightening people, is a mistake, for the absence of details results in imaginations running wild. The withholding of information in a time of crisis, or perceived crisis, is a sure prescription for panic.

…read the rest

 

17 September 2017

A sunshine break for me, Red Molly for you

This sunshine won’t last, so I’m spending most of the day outdoors, not blogging. Meanwhile, here’s the folk and bluegrass group Red Molly (named for a character in a ballad about a 1952 Vincent motorcycle) belting out Gillian Welch’s Tear my Stillhouse Down (be sure to catch David Rawlings’ riff on his archtop guitar).

 

16 September 2017 — 1315 mdt

How will the school threat crisis affect the Muldown bond election?

It might just help the bond pass.

Yesterday, ballots for the $26.5 million Muldown elementary school bond election were mailed to voters (the ballots must be returned by the close of business on 3 October). If the bond is approved, Whitefish’s elementary school, a leaky building that’s half a century old and beyond economical repairs, will be replaced by a modern building that will be more energy efficient, more pleasant for teachers and students, and large enough to accommodate 20 years of growth.

It undoubtedly will be more secure, with fewer and stronger access points, and security devices such as video cameras that monitor the school inside and out. A decade ago, when I toured Glacier High in Kalispell, I was impressed by how much attention was paid to security.

Besides brick, mortar, and steel, security features, new schools can incorporate cyber security features, such as defenses against school records being encrypted and held for ransom by a crook in Bulgaria.

The folks campaigning for the bond’s approval should consider using the opportunity afforded by the current situation to remind voters that a vote for the bond is a vote for more and better security. That’s a reasonable argument, and it ought to be welcomed by the community.

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16 September 2017 — 1315 mdt

Sheriff calls school threat case “cyberterrorism”

According to a press release (below) from the Flathead County Sheriff, law enforcement officers, including agents of the FBI, are in contact with the person behind the threats. They do not know who are where that person is. He could be in Kila, Michigan, Timbuktu, the Ukraine, or anywhere else on Earth. They may know what he wants, but they continue to refuse to release that information to the public. But the sheriff is calling the threat cyberterrorism. Here’s the news release, which the Daily InterLake’s Matt Baldwin published on Twitter this morning:

…read the rest

 

15 September 2017 — 2114 mdt

What happens if the cops can’t catch the creep threatening our schools?

Classes cannot be canceled forever. Or, as a practical matter, not for much longer. Children must be educated. Community activities must resume. Our daily round must be restored, even if it is at higher risk of disruption than before.

…read the rest

 

14 September 2017 — 1103 mdt

What does withholding the nature of the
threat that closed Flathead schools accomplish?

All schools in the Flathead, public and private, and Flathead Valley Community College, are closed today because someone sent the schools email and text messages threatening to do something bad. According to the Flathead Beacon, “persons of interest” are being interviewed by the county sheriff and the FBI.

Because the investigation is in progress, the public and parents are being kept ignorant of the nature of the threat. That’s the official justification for keeping secret what the texter/emailer threatened to do.

Yet, the person who made the threats knows what he threatened to do. So do school authorities and law enforcement agents. How would the investigation be harmed by releasing what was threatened to be done?

Unofficially, of course, keeping parents and the public ignorant of the nature of the threat deprives them of the information they need to assess the judgment of school officials and law enforcers. “Trust us,” demand the agents of ignorance, “we know what we’re doing and we have everyone’s best interests at heart.”

Most people will trust the authorities, and trust them blindly. The specter of children being harmed always causes parents and decent citizens to demand erring on the side of safety — to demand a risk free environment, which is an impossibility — and school administrators, skilled in covering their backsides, are happy to oblige.

But keeping the public ignorant, an objective not found in education’s mission statement, invites speculation, may leave people more fearful than the facts warrant, and generates resentment toward, and mistrust of, authority.

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13 September 2017 — 1736 mdt

The Flathead’s Birch Grove private air quality monitoring station

Approximately four kilometers southwest of Glacier International Airport, a citizen scientist has installed two meteorological stations that display realtime results for temperature, humidity, and wind (Birch Grove 1, published at the Weather Underground), and suspended particulates (Birch Grove 2, published at Purple Air).

birch_grove

There are numerous private wind, temperature, and humidity, stations in the Flathead, many connected to the U.S. Weather Service’s Mesonet. But private particulate monitoring stations are rare. Indeed, Birch Grove 2 may be unique to the Flathead.

Birch Grove 2 employs low cost (<$500) equipment manufactured by Purple Air. Thus far, 564 Purple Air particulate monitors have been installed around the world, but mostly in the United States. There are two in Montana: Kalispell and Helena.

The low cost of Purple Air’s equipment could initiate a paradigm shift in air quality monitoring. If the equipment proves durable, and the measurements accurate and reliable, a grid of air quality monitors of the Purple Air genre could be installed in the Flathead Valley for a few thousand dollars. Being able to check the PM 2.5 realtime reports for the grid nodes closest to home would liberate the Flathead’s population from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s single station for their PM 2.5 data.

If anyone does undertake such a project, the funder should require that the realtime data be available to the public in real time, and not hoarded by academic researchers seeking the glory of being the first to publish.

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