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, 27 Feb 2015 03:46:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Agree on the transportation need first, then work on the financing Wed, 25 Feb 2015 03:41:20 +0000 Minnesota legislators have been asked by Governor Dayton and various groups to support significant increases in the dedicated taxes used to fund our state’s transportation system.

We understand the need to invest in a safe, reliable, efficient and multimodal transportation system in Minnesota. Without it, our members cannot get their goods to market, their employees to work or their customers to their doors. We also support sustained and strategic investment in the state’s transportation infrastructure. However, before bringing this conversation around to the point of how to raise new revenues, we must first agree on the nature and level of investment that is needed.

Some have argued that the question about what the state’s transportation system needs has been answered, but data and planning estimates vary:

• In 2012, the Transportation Finance Advisory Committee (TFAC) projected the need for $250 million/year to “maintain” our state roads and bridges. Today, Gov. Dayton says we need $400 million to maintain it.

• In 2012, TFAC projected the need for $210 million/year to build out the Twin Cities transit system. Today, Gov. Dayton says we need $280 million.

• In 2012, TFAC projected that the metro area transit system could be built out in the next 20 years — only if we increased the metro area sales tax by a half-cent. Today, planning documents from the Counties Transit Improvement Board and the Metropolitan Council project that the same expansion can be completed with current revenues in the next 10 years.

We agree that transportation is a priority. It deserves a robust debate. But the conversation needs to be based on solid numbers. We must first reach consensus on what we need to invest in for our economy and for the state before we debate how to pay for it.

We encourage Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer and Rep. Nick Zerwas to join with the Legislature overall to find broad agreement on a 10-year investment plan and its cost.  By agreeing on the funding need first, there will be broad interest in developing a financing plan. — Debbi Rydberg,  Executive Director of the Elk River Area Chamber of Commerce and Bill Blazar, Interim President                                                                                            for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce

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Editorial cartoon for Feb. 21, 2015 Sun, 22 Feb 2015 10:55:29 +0000 Editorial cartoon for Feb. 21, 2015

Editorial cartoon for Feb. 21, 2015

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Opinion: Days we live in are very trying for us Sun, 22 Feb 2015 10:53:44 +0000 The days we live in are very trying. It is very upsetting to me that there would be a need to make a law stating it is illegal for government workers to watch pornography on computers while at work. Give me a break! I believe that it is a misuse of taxpayers’ money. It is high time that we have a little history lesson, looking back to see why our ancestors came to America.

“Our nation was founded by men who believed in prayer,” according to Decision magazine. “When our government was being formed, Benjamin Franklin addressed the chairman of the Constitutional Convention meeting at Philadelphia in 1787, saying, ‘I have lived, sir, a long time, and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, it is probable that an empire cannot rise without his aid.’”

We would adapt the words of Benjamin Franklin to our day and say, it is probable that a nation cannot keep her freedom without the aid of Almighty God.

“Our first president, George Washington, led his armies to victory, but not until he had first taken time alone to invoke God’s blessing upon their cause,” according to Decision magazine. “Down through our history, our nation’s leaders have carried their plans and hopes to God in prayer.”

I don’t know about the citizens of the United States, but I believe it is high time we restore God back into our schools. The students are our future. It has been proven in the past that if we honor God, he will honor us. Our freedom is at stake! — Lola Driessen, Elk River

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Opinion: Proud of volunteers, staff in cat rescue with one caveat — caution Sun, 22 Feb 2015 10:52:00 +0000 The city is proud of the staff and residents who assisted with the rescue of Tina the cat last week. Thank you, Elk River Star News, for the great coverage!

I would like to express my caution for residents about the dangers of the storm sewer system. First, as you can imagine, the storm grates and manhole covers are very heavy and can cause serious damage. City employees have special tools for the safe removal.

Second, entry into a storm or sanitary sewer is very dangerous. So much so that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates strict procedures and requires annual training for personnel involved with confined space entries. For example, certified employees or contractors must conduct tests prior to entry to determine the percentage of oxygen, flammable gases/vapors, and toxic gases/vapors.

If you need help with a storm sewer, please call the city for assistance. We appreciate how the community worked together to rescue Tina, and we are happy she was returned safe and sound; we want to ensure no one is injured in the process. — Suzanne M. Fischer, Director, Community Operations and Development, City of Elk River 

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Viewpoint: Public officials are underpaid for efforts Sun, 22 Feb 2015 10:50:22 +0000 Legislators are upset over pay increases Gov. Mark Dayton has given his state department commissioners.

Legislators say they were blindsided over excessive pay raises, even though they are legal.

Now they are retaliating with bills to penalize the governor and even take away his pay-raising authority. This is a fight they should drop.

I have always favored public officials being paid what their time and talent are worth. Why should their time in government be worth less than their time in private enterprise where they could earn more?

Typically, public officials – including mayors, city councilors, county commissioners and even legislators – are underpaid for the time they spend serving their constituents.

They have to spend their own time and money in costly and stressful campaigns just to get elected to serve.

Once elected, they are expected to spend their time away from their families attending meetings, listening to constituents and answering phone calls and emails.

My Bloomington council member gets a salary of $12,396. He hasn’t had a raise since 2003, and he deserves one.

Private enterprise, which will probably oppose the pay raises, has to pay higher salaries to attract good talent. Look what top executives and middle management earn in private enterprise.

Why not pay good salaries to those who work for the government? Public service is honorable, but it doesn’t put food on the table.

All the Republican howling is about increased salaries ranging from $119,517 to mostly $150,000, to a high of $154,992 in five cases. Most of the commissioners haven’t had a pay raise in 10 years.

Dayton in a letter to the legislators said that not one commissioner asked for a raise. He also has offered to meet with the Republican caucus to give his side of the story.

Then there is an argument that with the new raises, they are earning more than commissioners in neighboring states. Why should that matter? Let other states pay what they can afford.

I also agree with Dayton that salaries of legislators are too low. Trouble is they are afraid to vote for what they know they are worth.

They won’t be defeated because they voted a pay increase for themselves. If they go down to defeat, it will be because the voters will decide their decisions aren’t worth their pay. — Don Heinzman (Editor’s note: Heinzman is a columnist for ECM Publishers.)

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Viewpoint: New ideas, attitudes, opportunites for students Sun, 22 Feb 2015 10:45:34 +0000 New ideas, attitudes and opportunities are coming for Minnesota students. That was a central theme at the Feb. 6 “Pathways to Postsecondary” conference, cosponsored by the Minnesota Department of Education and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

If things work out as state officials hope, Minnesota students will know more about career options, be better prepared for them, and be more likely to find a good job that pays well.

Those are great goals. They are going to require some rethinking by families and some refinements in schools.

Joel Vargas, a featured speaker at the conference, helped introduce new ideas to about 140 educators and community members who attended the conference. Vargas is vice president of Jobs for the Future, a Boston-based nonprofit that provides information to educators and legislators. Vargas was not expected to attend college, but a special program provided encouragement and assistance. He ultimately earned a doctorate from Harvard and has dedicated his life to expanding opportunity for others.

Vargas promoted several ideas:

•It’s important for all kinds of students to take some form of dual-credit (high school and college) courses. Vargas emphasized the value of allowing a broad range of students to participate in these courses. He shared several studies showing that students who take these courses, in a high school or on a college campus, are much more likely to graduate from high school, enroll and graduate from some form of higher education. This can be a one-, two- or four-year program.

•Students need accurate information about future jobs. Vargas cited research showing that more than 70 percent of jobs by 2020 will require some education beyond high school, though not necessarily a four-year degree (read more about this at

•Students should consider that many high-paying, enjoyable jobs are available in technical fields like welding, digital imaging, advanced manufacturing, etc. These often require a one- or two-year degree or certificate beyond high school.

A 90-second video featuring Vargas is here: His full presentation is here:

John Christiansen, superintendent of Intermediate School District 917, based in Rosemount, told me “the need is now.” He’s finding that Dakota County employers, and others around the state, are facing shortages of people trained in technical fields. Christiansen encourages students and families to be open to many fine jobs in these fields. This may require new attitudes and a greater openness to such jobs.

Event keynote speaker Joel Vargas, Sen. Greg Clausen and Joel Luedtke, senior program officer at the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota, talk at the Feb. 6 conference in Rosemount. (Photo by Joe Nathan)

2013 Minnesota legislation requires that each student, starting in the ninth grade, develop a personal learning plan. It will be based on their interests, talents and skills. The plan will be updated as youngsters move through high school. This is a terrific idea. Future columns will discuss how it’s being implemented.

Sen. Greg Clausen, D-Apple Valley, a former public school educator, attended the conference. He strongly supports the 2013 law and is working to help implement it.

The Feb. 6 conference, held in Rosemount at the Dakota County Technical College, was the seventh and last in a series of meetings held around the state. Each offered research, strategies and examples of how schools and colleges are partnering to help students develop, as state legislation requires, the “knowledge, skills and competencies to pursue a career pathway.”

I hope MDE and MnSCU hold more meetings like this. If they do, the conferences could benefit from an expanded list of partners and presentations. That could include presentations by students, the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Private College Council and charter public schools faculty.

Thanks to Christiansen, other educators and state legislators, good information will be shared with students and families. These new ideas and opportunities are good for students and good for Minnesota. — 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 Feb. 14, 2015 Sat, 14 Feb 2015 13:00:33 +0000 Editorial cartoon for Feb. 14, 2015

Editorial cartoon for Feb. 14, 2015

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Viewpoint: American Heart Month is a good time to learn CPR Sat, 14 Feb 2015 13:00:15 +0000 Imagine you are standing in a hallway and the person next to you suddenly falls.

Chances are that person could be having a cardiac arrest and needs CPR immediately. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, in Minnesota in 2010, over 35 percent of fatalities due to heart disease happened before a person could get to a hospital, and many of those were caused by cardiac arrests.

Are you ready? Because for every minute lost without any help, that person’s chance of surviving decreases by 10 percent.

Do you know Hands-Only CPR? If not, learn it. You could save a life.

This February, American Heart Month, is a good time to learn.

Communities in the metropolitan area are becoming Heart Safe Communities, assisted by the American Heart Association and the Minnesota Department of Health.

If you live in Coon Rapids, for example, a Heart Safe Community, you may be one of the 4,000 already trained in how to do Hands-Only CPR. Volunteers have placed automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, in the community and are trying to bring more into businesses so they’re widely available for emergencies.

Coon Rapids wants to train 30,000 on CPR. That effort is led by police officer Bryan Platz, paramedic Paul Medoza and volunteer Jeramy Browning.

Some other Heart Safe Communities in the metro area are Apple Valley, Golden Valley, Lakeville, Maple Grove, Minnetonka, New Brighton, Osseo and Plymouth.

The Plymouth Rotary Club is taking the lead by first training its own members to be CPR trainers. Partnering with Allina Health, Rotarians have trained 1,600 and hope to train more.

In Golden Valley, the Fire Department has trained 2,100 and is getting local companies to buy and place AEDs.

A cardiac arrest survivor, Tim Hoffman, with support from the Ramsey Police and Fire departments and the community, is leading the effort for his community to become Heart Safe.

Brian Freed, of Bloomington, is a survivor of a cardiac arrest who talks about being saved through CPR. He suffered a cardiac arrest in his home and fell to the kitchen floor, where his wife found him. She called 911 and the police arrived within three minutes with an AED.

“If it weren’t for CPR, I probably wouldn’t be here,” he said in a recent talk.

Volunteer to get a Heart Safe effort started in your community. Go to the Minnesota Department of Health’s Heart Safe Communities Web page,, and you’ll find specific plans and forms to get started.

You could save a life, but as important, hope that someone is trained in CPR in case that person suffering a cardiac arrest is you. — Don Heinzman (Editor’s note: Heinzman is a columnist for ECM Publishers Inc.)

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ECM Editorial: Find ways to fully fund special education programs Sat, 07 Feb 2015 13:00:15 +0000 The number of students who have special needs in Minnesota schools continues to grow.

State and federal governments need to fund federally mandated programs as promised to avoid using local operating school district funds to subsidize the program.

To its credit, the 2012-13 State Legislature appropriated an additional $40 million to fund special education for 112,000 students. The federal government came up with $167 million in new money.

In the 2013-14 school year, the cost of educating disabled learners was $1.955 billion, with the state contributing $1.05 billion that was designated for students with special needs.

That means that during the 2013-14 school year, local school districts will have to use $611 million out of their general funds to subsidize special education programs. General funds are intended for the education of all students, including those with special needs.

Second District Congressman John Kline, a Republican, now chair of the House Education Committee, intends to find more funds for special education, but he contends the Obama administration keeps coming up with new programs that take away scarce dollars that could go to students in Minnesota’s classrooms.

When the federal government in 1975 mandated the special education program, it promised to fund it up to 40 percent. It’s now approximately 18 percent.

Meanwhile, the number of students eligible for special education under Minnesota law continues to climb, while the total enrollment continues to decline. Part of the answer may be more funding for high-quality 3- and 4-year-old early childhood programs from low-income families. Some research shows this helps reduce the number of students with special needs in elementary and secondary schools.

Each student with special needs has an individual education plan that by law must be funded. All children, including those with special needs, have an equal right to an education as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. They also have a right to the same funding as all children.

According to the Minnesota Department of Education, in 2012 it cost $1.8 billion to fund these individual education plans. State and federal governments covered $1.2 billion, forcing local school districts to bolster special education funding by almost $600 million from their general operating funds.

State legislators would rather spread any new funding to their local districts, rather than give more to districts that have disabled learners.

Advocates for children with learning disabilities contend that a local school district’s subsidy of the funding gap is part of the community’s responsibility to educate all children. They note that students with special needs also lose opportunities when districts cut operating budgets.

School superintendents from all over the state say their No. 1 priority for the federal government is full funding of special education.

People need to rise up, contact their state legislators and members of Congress, and demand that federal and state governments live up to their promises of full funding.

Until federal and the state governments feel the heat, they will be content to let local school districts spend general operating funds intended for the education of all students to provide deserved special education programs for those students with special needs. – An opinion of the ECM Publishers Editorial Board

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Viewpoint: Let’s drive home message that distracted driving kills Sat, 07 Feb 2015 13:00:13 +0000 A movement is underway nationwide to increase awareness of distracted driving and eventually make it illegal to talk on a cellphone while driving.

In Minnesota, Lakeville attorney Art Kosieradzki hopes to make students so aware of the dangers of distracted driving that they’ll organize a campaign against it, just as a group of students did decades ago when they formed Students Against Driving Drunk.

Student groups in Lakeville’s North and South high schools are meeting monthly to raise student awareness of distracted driving’s consequences. The Lakeville Police Department also is involved.

Kosieradzki brought the distracted driving message home to Lakeville students last year when he had them hear from parents who lost their son instantly one summer day in 2013.

Monticello High School graduate Phillip LaVallee, 19, was an accomplished cross-country runner and track star attending South Dakota State University on a sports scholarship. He was running on the side of a county road in Otsego Aug. 8, 2013, when a van crossed the center line of the road and hit him from behind.

“Just like that he was gone,” his mother, Amy LaVallee, told the hushed group of health class students. “Losing a child is the worst thing you can go through.”

The driver, an Albertville woman, has been charged with criminal vehicular homicide. Investigators said they found no skid marks on the road and phone records reportedly show the driver received a call at the time of the accident.

Amy and Greg LaVallee have told their story about the loss of their son to students at Monticello High School. They also hope to talk about the dangers of distracted driving to students in neighboring high schools.

Greg LaVallee hopes this effort to increase awareness of distracted driving will cause the Minnesota Legislature to ban talking on a cellphone while driving. He’s found that legislators are reluctant to do it because they believe there is not enough support for it.

Kosieradzki and his law firm, SiebenCarey, are preparing a “No Distracted Driving” petition for students to sign, with a special effort in April, which is Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

Kosieradzki told Thisweek Newspapers reporter Laura Adelmann that distracted driving isn’t just about cellphone use. It includes eating, grooming, drinking, smoking, adjusting the radio and reaching for objects in the car.

The movement to stop distracted driving has gone national, thanks to the leadership of Joel Feldman, who lost his daughter Casey, 21, a Pennsylvania native, in an accident in New Jersey involving a distracted driver.

Already 225,000 people from 41 states are mobilizing to bring about stricter penalties for distracted driving, according to End Distracted Driving.

The Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety reported in 2014 that distracted driving is responsible for at least 70 deaths and 350 serious injuries a year in the state.

According to the National Safety Council, 22 percent of traffic accidents are caused by distracted drivers.

Talking and driving both demand thought, and some research is showing that a driver talking on the phone delays braking and has difficulty seeing traffic.

The National Safety Transportation Board seeks to ban all use of mobile devices, including use of hands-free devices, by drivers.

Amy LaVallee is hoping the Minnesota Legislature will pass legislation requiring stricter penalties for those distracted drivers who cause accidents, just as it did for drunken drivers, such as losing their license.

For more information on distracted driving and how to get videos to show about it, go to — Don Heinzman (Editor’s note: Heinzman is a columnist for ECM Publishers Inc.)

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