Star News » Opinion The Star News covers community news, sports, current events and provides advertising and information for Elk River, Otsego, Rogers and Zimmerman, Minnesota and their surrounding areas. Fri, 19 Sep 2014 08:03:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Questions to ask as federal lunch debate continues Sun, 31 Aug 2014 14:12:54 +0000 Can you believe it? School lunch is controversial. In this time of political extremes even the hot dog is at risk. The federal government, in an attempt to ensure healthy eating for our children, requires schools to serve meals with new and very specific requirements for reduced salt, required whole grains, required quantities of fruits and vegetables, specified calorie levels for each age grouping, and low-fat milk. Federal funding of the free and reduced lunches for school districts is dependent on compliance.

Child nutrition staffs at some schools say the requirement is resulting in children throwing the fruit or vegetable in the garbage and reducing the number of students participating in the lunch program. They argue that the new requirements are wasteful, difficult to implement and should be delayed.

Some schools argue that the calorie levels for older students are too low and that the high school athletes leave hungry. (Athletic power Wayzata High School, for one, has opted out of the federal lunch program, but elementary and middle schools in the district will remain under the new federal standards.)

Rep. John Kline of Minnesota is one legislator who has championed the call for a delay.

Supporters of the requirements argue that large producers of school lunch products are behind the call for a delay. The school lunch program is a major market for food producers and the new requirements may take them out of the market, force a change in products and detract from the product’s student desirability.

Do school lunches need to be healthier? Can we affect the eating habits of children? Is the current law effective; and finally what do those who call for a delay offer as the alternate solution? Criticism is easier than problem solving and delaying a solution without specific steps and timelines is not to the betterment of our children’s long-term health.

Critics argue that if the healthy food is being served but not consumed, the program is failing. Changing our eating habits is really the problem and that is tough. We like our sugar, salt and fat. Our children like the unhealthy food we like and that’s what we want to change.

We are considered an obese nation with related health problems that challenge our quality of life and the costs of health care. These are major problems that we can’t afford to pass on to our children.

The federal school lunch requirements are an attempt to address that need. A successful effort toward healthier eating in the school lunchroom has to also come from the home and the general environment in which our children live. We need a strong partnership between parents, the school lunchroom, the government and the industries that produce food for our children.

If a delay is needed, the proponents of delay should spell out alternative solutions and a timeline for implementation. The next time we hold hearing in Washington, our elected officials should ask the food producers what they will do during a delay to make their product healthier in compliance with the standards.

Ask the industry what they will do to make a healthier product more desirable to students and ask for a timeline. Ask the leaders of the School Nutrition Association what they will do during the time of the delay to meet the standards. Ask what the association will do during the delay to overcome the challenges and meet the requirements. Ask the association what they will do to enhance the inclusion of the home when moving children toward better nutrition.

Members of Congress also have some questions to answer. Ask them what they will do to further ensure healthy eating habits of children. If additional funding is needed, will they provide it? If corporate incentives are needed to improve commercial school lunch products, will they support those incentives? If individual components of the law need be improved, will they delineate those expected improvements as they call for the delays in implementation to assure a delay isn’t an attempt at elimination of the effort?

Parents and grandparents of students have an extremely important, if not the most important, role in improving the lifelong health of our children. Your expectations will greatly determine if the fruits and vegetables go into the stomach or into the garbage.

Perhaps it’s time to engage in the lunch program just as it’s time to engage in the reading program. Let your children know what you expect and set an example (that may be the really hard part). Let your school know what you expect.

As a final note, families need to think about the new requirements and the requested delay and let your elected officials know what you want for your children.– An opinion from the ECM Publishers Editorial Board


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How to support your community’s seniors Sun, 31 Aug 2014 14:11:14 +0000 More people in your communities are living longer. What are you going to do about them?

This will be a central issue for community leaders as the baby boomers retire.

We’re told they want to volunteer and get involved in the community where they’ve lived for many years.

You can segregate them, put them in assisted living and nursing homes, build or remodel senior centers and hope they find something to do.

Or, you can integrate them; involve them meaningfully in all aspects of community life. You can take advantage of their years of experience as they continue to live “on the back nine” of life.

Bob Ramsey, 80, has written a manual, “Creating Vital Aging Communities,” which is a must-read for all community leaders. He also writes a monthly column for ECM Publishers’ Hometown Source website.

Ramsey says communities must address the boomers who are retiring. “They will demand support for an active living style, expanded recreational opportunities, and user-friendly work and volunteer options.”

He writes: “The more that older adults are included in community leadership and action groups, strategic planning teams, commissions, committees and task forces, the more they can continue to grow and thrive and the more the community can benefit from their gifts.”

Ramsey, a former assistant superintendent with the St. Louis Park school system, has lived this topic and his thoughts will inspire you.

Already, he has planted seeds in St. Louis Park, where the mayor sponsored a Seniors Summit that’s sent ripples of ideas to help the aging throughout the community.

First step, Ramsey says, is for the community to change its attitude about aging people.

He stresses the need for community leaders to build their new approach on the three major pillars to help the aging: health, transportation and affordable housing.

“Health is the trump card in successful aging,” Ramsey writes.

He quotes a study for the Park Nicollet Foundation that says a healthy community offers access to health care services that focus on treatment and prevention for all ages. It also should be safe, have a healthy environment and have an infrastructure that meets the needs of all ages.

A second pillar is affordable housing. Most aging people want to remain in their family homes as long as possible. It is a fervent passion for many.

“Aging in place not only works for many seniors, it can work to the benefit of the entire community by keeping older residents more actively engaged and by preserving healthy, intergenerational neighborhoods,” Ramsey says.

Community leaders can subsidize low-income housing and provide low-cost loans for seniors to remodel their homes, among other possibilities.

A third pillar is transportation, particularly for older residents who can no longer drive. Aging communities need walking and biking paths to be well-lit for seniors.

There is life after driving, provided communities provide alternative transit systems, such as a dial-a-ride program. Volunteer driver programs, van service operated by churches and senior housing complexes are helpful. Poor transit in communities with many seniors is unacceptable.

This is the trifecta for a winning vital aging community. With optimum health care, housing and transportation, your community possesses the basics for empowering and igniting its older citizens.

The printing of Ramsey’s book is sponsored by the Park Nicollet Foundation and the Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis, and he has some books available. His address is 3663 Park Center Blvd., Apt. 1202, St. Louis Park, MN, 55416. Email Ramsey at — Don Heinzman (Editor’s note: Heinzman is a columnist for ECM Publishers.)

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Divide gym space, time more evenly Sun, 31 Aug 2014 14:09:50 +0000 I am writing in response to the article in the Elk River Star News last week regarding the Elk River High School gymnasium upgrades and actions/tasks on the activities directors’ lists.

I agree that the Elk River High School gymnasium upgrade looks fantastic, and the gym floor is great. However, it would be nice if all of the sports could practice in the gym, and time be split between all of the teams at the high school.

My daughter dances on the Elk River Dance Team and the Elk River Performance Team. The fall performance team is considered a club. This team entertains the crowds at the halftime football games, dances in two parades, and also entertains the crowd during homecoming festivities. They also host a dance team clinic for younger girls. They practice 2 1/2 hours a day Monday through Thursday starting in mid-August through mid-October. There are 52 members on the team this season.

The winter team, however, is the competitive team. This team is considered a sport by the Minnesota State High School League and competes against other high school dance teams in meets and invitationals. The girls can also letter in this sport, just like all other varsity sports.

There are 28 girls on the team this year. They start practice from mid-October through January. They practice Monday through Friday for 2 1/2 to 3 hours after school, and some Saturdays throughout the season. A lot of this practice time is conditioning, strength and endurance training.

This team also has gone to state throughout its years, more times than not. All but one of the dancers on the winter team are also on the fall performance team. So that means over half of the girls are dancing from August through January, which basically is a five-month season. They also host a fundraiser dance show in November, which makes quite a bit of money for the school.

Dance parents pay the same fees and same taxes as the rest of the parents of other sports teams in Elk River. Yet, my daughter practices in the commons of the high school on the unforgiving concrete floor. Rarely do they ever get gym time because of other sports also practicing in the gym. Each year we have girls with problems with shin splints, hips, knees and backs due to practicing on the commons floor. Talk to several parents on the team and they will tell you their chiropractor and physical therapy bills are adding up.

I know I speak for a lot of dance parents when I say that this really needs to be looked at, as far as sharing time with other teams in the gym. Why is it that the dance team gets the shaft when it comes to practicing in the gym? The gym is huge, with three sections. Why can’t it be shared? I just think that all teams should get their fair share of gym time. They perform and compete on the gym floor. They should be able to practice on it too. — Sheila Skogen, Elk River

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Opinion: Long lines, short lights bothersome Sun, 31 Aug 2014 14:07:54 +0000 I have heard often the issues of red-light runners along Highway 169 during my 30 years of living in the Elk River area.

Today, I tried to turn onto School Street from the northbound turn lane of Highway 169. There were 12 cars ahead of me. After two full cycles of signals I was still in line with two cars ahead of me. This has happened many times all along 169 when turning or crossing. Crossers and turners get very short signal times while through signals for 169 are very long. People get impatient when waiting through that many cycles and start taking chances. — Dick Walstrom, Nowthen

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ECM Editorial: Mental illness: No more secrets, deception Sat, 23 Aug 2014 12:00:26 +0000 Imagine this: Your 15-year-old son becomes seriously ill. Is it cancer or some other life-threatening disease? You whisk him off to the emergency room. Within days, you have updates on Facebook. “Billy is doing much better.” “The medicine is working!” “He’s going to be OK.”

Many of us have experienced that scenario in our lives. But how many of us also experience this similar situation:

Your 15-year-old son becomes seriously ill. He is afraid to leave the house; he suffers severe mood swings and destructive behavior. You chastise him, you take away his computer or gaming system, and you force him into the car to go to school. You say nothing about your daily struggles to friends and family. You make up excuses for missing family gatherings. You are too ashamed to seek help.

When it comes to mental illness, we hide the truth. We don’t share our stories on social media. Who has ever shouted for joy that the new medication is helping your son’s severe anxiety? Or that your daughter finally got approved for residential treatment for her schizophrenia?

Those suffering from mental illness refrain from discussing their problems. Employees fear the loss of their job; individuals fear losing a loved one when the truth is revealed. Patients hesitate to be frank with their doctors.

Those of us spared dealing with mental illness are clueless as how to help a friend or coworker whose life is being turned upside down.

Yet mental illness is all around us. Depression affects 10 percent of Americans. We are stunned to hear that actor Robin Williams – someone who seemingly had everything – took his own life. According to the American Psychiatric Association, “Depression is never normal and always produces needless suffering.”

One in 10 children are affected by depression, anxiety or other mental illness, according to, a national initiative to educate and fight the stigma of mental illness.

Some 25 million Americans have some type of anxiety disorder.

On a national scale, shootings like the one at Sandy Hook in 2012 put mentally ill individuals into the headlines. In those worst cases, we shudder when the evening’s newscasts bring us horrific video of a shooting scene.

But mental health issues touch us in many other ways, every day. Families struggle when dad is unable to hold down a job, or a daughter threatens suicide.

Our workplaces are affected, too. A coworker with mental health issues drains time and hurts morale. Those outbursts shatter the workday, creating a tense and hostile work team.

On a practical note, undiagnosed and untreated mental illness hits us in the pocketbook. Some 30-40 percent of those in our county jails are mentally ill, not criminals, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek and many other law enforcement officials from throughout the country will tell you. Their issues consume extensive staffing hours and tax dollars just to maintain and move these people through the system, while hard-core criminals go free.

Our medical system is burdened by mentally ill who cannot or will not seek regular doctor’s care. One out of eight emergency room visits are for mental health issues. Again, we help to pick up the tab through government social services and health care subsidies.

Some new laws have helped. Our state’s sheriffs, with Stanek leading the charge, were successful with legislation that speeds the process for assessing an inmate’s mental state. “Local jails should not be the largest mental health facilities in the state,” Stanek says.

Organizations like NAMI – the National Association on Mental Illness – are actively urging Congress to pass important legislation: The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act and the Strengthening Mental Health in our Communities Act of 2014 should be approved.

The Affordable Care Act says that mental health issues need to be covered and treated the same as physical health ailments, but Medicare and Medicaid still do not pay as much for inpatient treatment for the mentally ill, encouraging private facilities to reduce their mental illness services.

We are blessed in Minnesota to have top-notch health care. We have clinics that specialize in mental health issues, some focusing specifically on young people. Yet we still keep the illnesses, the symptoms and treatment quiet. We are unprepared when illness strikes our own family or friends.

A local campaign, supported by many Minnesota health organizations including the Mayo Clinic and HealthPartners called “Make It OK” (, offers simple ways to start a conversation about mental illness. It urges everyone to stop the silence, and be prepared to react and open up the discussion, not shut it down: “Thanks for opening up to me.” “Do you want to talk about it?” “How can I help?”

The initiative urges everyone to take a pledge to help make it OK to discuss mental illness. One of the key points says, “If we join together, people with mental illnesses will be treated with respect and acceptance. This is how I’ll help remove the silence surrounding mental illness. This is how I will make it OK.”

It is time for everyone to stop hiding mental illness, and start talking. Only when we as a society admit this huge problem exists, will we be able to work together to foster good mental health for all. — An editorial from the ECM Publishers Editorial Board. This newspaper is part of ECM Publishers.

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Opinion: Millennials change housing patterns Sat, 23 Aug 2014 12:00:19 +0000 The millennials, ages 18-34, are forcing changes in the metropolitan area housing patterns, particularly in the first-ring suburbs and urban centers.

Steve Elkins is the District 5 Metropolitan Council member, representing Bloomington, Richfield, Edina and Hopkins, who spoke to progressives recently in Bloomington. He is an economist for Optum Technology, a division of United Health Group.

Drawing on the Metropolitan Council’s vast studies and research, Elkins said predictions are becoming true. He said more apartment units than single-family homes are under construction in many communities, the largest number of apartments built since the 1970s. Many millennials don’t intend to buy single-family homes, Elkins said; they prefer “walkable neighborhoods” near “cool” places where they can walk and bike to work and to their favorite restaurants and coffee shops.

Many, therefore, don’t intend to buy a car, preferring to ride the bus and the light rails. Elkins said that the number of miles driven by the average person has declined every year since 2004.

At the same time, baby boomers are starting to retire, downsize their homes and either buy condominiums or rent apartments. They, like the millennials, also want to relocate near convenient shopping centers and restaurants.

Elkins also predicted that populations in the first-ring suburbs will increase. For example, by 2040, the population of Bloomington is projected to go up from 85,000 to 125,000.

Turning to transit, Elkins said if the state Legislature doesn’t act on funding needs identified by the Minnesota Department of Transportation next session, the time is coming when there won’t be enough funds to build new roads. There only will be enough funds to repair roads and bridges.

Don’t depend on the federal government for funds, he cautioned, because the Federal Highway Trust Fund is going broke, spending 30 percent more than it is taking in.

The last increase in the state gasoline tax is providing a third of the funds needed by MnDOT, he said.

Elkins said a new line of bus rapid transit is scheduled to be operational by 2019. The orange line will go from Burnsville through Bloomington, under Interstate 494 to Richfield, to 66th Street, onto Lake Street and to downtown Minneapolis. Big buses capable of seating over 50 passengers will be moving along that route.

Those wishful thinkers who want a change in the dangerous I-494 and I-35W interchange better keep wishing. While there is a plan drawn, Elkins said, “There are no funds and none in sight.”

Elkins still has high hopes that some day the famous Dan Patch railroad line from Minneapolis to Savage can be used for light rail. He’s figured the rails and crossings could be changed and include “quiet zones” for less than $175 million.

What about water supply? Elkins said diverting plentiful water from the rivers will tide the communities over. He agreed it is time to draw less water from the aquifers and to use surface water.

The Met Council has adopted the Thrive 2040 plan in four areas: transportation, housing, waste water and parks. The council staff is preparing plans in those four areas to be ready by the end of this year. Next year and until 2018, mayors and council members will use the council’s plan to revise their local development plans, keeping in mind all those millennials as well as the baby boomers who will be retiring. — Don Heinzman, ECM Publishers

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Opinion: Students explain community colleges’ popularity Sat, 23 Aug 2014 12:00:18 +0000 Youngsters like Kerrie Maleski, Kayley Schoonmaker, Matt Rubel and Will Tully are part of a major trend in Minnesota. They are among the growing number of students in Minnesota’s two-year community colleges. They’ve also been elected as leaders of the Minnesota State College Student Association.

National research says cost and preparation for good jobs is helping encourage this trend. A 2014 publication of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, “Minnesota Measures,” found that enrollment doubled in Minnesota’s two-year institutions from about 60,000 in 1980 to about 120,000 in 2012.

This helped Minnesota have one of the nation’s highest rates of adults with at least a two-year Associate of Arts degree. According to the MOHE, Minnesota ranks fourth in the nation with 46 percent of people ages 25-64 earning an A.A. degree or higher. Fifty-one percent of Minnesotans ages 25-35 have at least an A.A. degree, second only to Massachusetts, with 55 percent.

Read more from the 2014 MOHE report at

Some students enter two-year colleges immediately, some after a few years working.

Rubel graduated from Robbinsdale Armstrong High School. He wrote that after graduation, he “entered the workforce and obtained a union job working in the shipping industry.” After a few years, he wrote, he realized he was meant for more and enrolled at North Hennepin Community College. Rubel has “a long-term goal of obtaining a law degree and advocating for individuals who are struggling through various life events.”

Maleski, from Ramsey, describes herself as “a 25-year-old nontraditional college student.” She has changed her major from accounting to supervisory management. Maleski also hopes to earn a degree in family and marriage counseling.

Tully wrote that he decided in July 2013 “it was time for a change of scenery.” He didn’t re-enroll at Northwest Florida State College and moved to Bloomington. He’s attending Minneapolis Community Technical College.

Schoonmaker, 20, president of the state association, said she hopes “to teach English classes at a college and continue to be a part of higher education advocacy work.” She started at Itasca Community College in Grand Rapids.

According to the MOHE, “The college participation rate of recent high school graduates increased 13 percentage points from 56 percent in 1996 to 69 percent in 2012.” Of those in Minnesota, the single largest group of high school graduates, 38 percent, enrolled in a Minnesota public two-year community or technical college; 20 percent in a Minnesota state university or a University of Minnesota campus; 19 percent enrolled in a Minnesota private college; and 3 percent enrolled in a Minnesota private career school.

A 2011 report, “The Road Ahead: A Look at Trends in the Educational Attainment of Community College Students” – online at – described a dramatic increase in the number enrollments and certificates and degrees (aka credentials) earned.

The report by Christopher Mullin, program director for policy analysis at the American Association of Community Colleges, found that between 1989-90 and 2009-10, enrollment increased 65 percent, while total credentials earned increased 127 percent.

In 2009-10, students attending community colleges earned more than a million credentials; 60 percent were associate and bachelor’s degrees and 40 percent were certificates. The largest numbers of certificates were in health professions, business and management, mechanic and repair tech.

The report found significant increases in enrollment and credentials earned among all racial and ethnic groups: Over the last 20 years, there was a 283 percent increase in credentials earned by African American students, 242 percent increase by American Indian students, 253 percent increase by Asian American students, 440 percent increase by Hispanic students and 90 percent increase by white students.

A recent report by the Georgetown University Center of Education and the Economy ( projected that 74 percent of jobs available in Minnesota through 2020 will require some education beyond high school (compared to 65 percent of jobs nationally). But the vast majority of jobs won’t require a four-year degree.

People like Maleski, Schoonmaker, Rubel and Tully wisely recognize the value of Minnesota’s two-year colleges. — Joe Nathan (Editor’s note: Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at

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Editorial cartoon for Aug. 9, 2014 Sat, 09 Aug 2014 12:00:40 +0000 Editorial cartoon for Aug. 9, 2014.

Editorial cartoon for Aug. 9, 2014.

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Letter to the editor: Thank you for postponing work Sat, 09 Aug 2014 12:00:19 +0000 Sometimes we read an article and what we have read really does not sink in until later on; therefore, I am quoting so I have the correct information so you are able to form your own opinion. On Feb. 18 “the driver of a vehicle ignored flashing lights and a railroad stop arm at the Jackson Avenue crossing in an effort to pass over the tracks before an oncoming train could reach the intersection. The vehicle became stuck on the tracks and it was hit by two trains – one traveling northbound and one southbound – before occupants of the car escaped with minor injuries.”

What was the cause of this accident? Was it the thrill she would get from beating the train? Only by the grace of God were lives spared.

The result of her efforts to be victorious over the train has affected all of us in the city of Elk River. “More work would carry greater costs. While budgeting for 2014, the city planned $500,000 from street reserves to fund railroad improvements toward qualifying for quiet zone status.”

“But staff at the July 7 council meetings did not have funds identified from which the city might support an extra $850,000 in rail improvements.” Are you citizens willing to pay an extra $850,000 because a citizen decided to commit two illegal acts?

There are many of us that believe that those of you who object to the whistles and refuse to ignore them should come forth with the funds.

I thank councilman Stewart Wilson for postponing the work. In my opinion that was a very wise decision. $850,000 is a lot of money to spend to appease a minority. —Lola Driessen, Elk River

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Letter to the editor: Impaired driving still a concern Sat, 09 Aug 2014 12:00:11 +0000 Have you noticed that reporting and reaction to crashes caused by impaired drivers on our roadways has become nonchalant? Has it become socially acceptable and we expect to hear about fatalities and significant injuries due to crashes caused by impaired drivers? Crashes that are 100 percent preventable. Not many things in life are 100 percent bets, but driving impaired is one of the few we can make the choice not to do – 100 percent of the time.

Here are the known statistics for Minnesota in 2013; from the DPS data records.

2013 known alcohol-related statistics:

• 3,669 crashes.

• 117 deaths and 2,300 injuries.

•Estimated economic cost: $235,411,700.

I think part of the problem is we see these as only numbers and unless you have been directly affected, they may not register as bad as they really are.

It was once presented to me in this way: Think about the newscasts, local and national, when there is a salmonella or E. coli outbreak, another serious situation; but focus on the attention it gets over impaired driving and the lives lost and injuries that linger well after a crash caused by an impaired driver. Have we come to simply accept impaired driver caused crashes?

And remember, impaired driving is more than just alcohol, it is also prescription and illegal drugs, and, in this author’s opinion, we could include driving overly fatigued/sleep deprived.

This is all preventable and we can make that choice. So the next time you are out with family and friends, you have that choice; choose to not drive impaired, it could be your family member’s or friend’s life you are protecting. — Tom Koteles, Elk River (Editor’s note: Koteles is a volunteer with the Sherburne County Safe Roads Coalition.)

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