- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Dec. 22, 2015

Counting the days

We’ve got news for anyone who believes the Bentonville School Board made its hardest decision last week in its vote to place all elementary schools on a common calendar.

The news? The tough decision is still ahead.

For more than a year, the elementary school principals have campaigned to end the school district’s two-decade practice of offering at least one school on a nontraditional calendar. Such a schedule reduces the amount of time kids are out for summer break, but sprinkles more days off during the midst of the school year than so-called traditional-calendar schools.

Of the district’s 10 elementary schools, two have operated on nontraditional calendars.

The principals, Superintendent Michael Poore and others have pushed for a unified approach, not so much driven by evidence of academic performance improved by one schedule or the other, but by how much having two schools on a different calendar than eight others creates problems in a district that needs flexibility in dealing with overcrowding. By putting all 10 on one schedule, they submit, the district will significantly reduce the volume of “overflowing” students from one crowded school to one with space to accommodate them.

About 763 students were affected directly by overflow this year. Fewer than 45 students are expected to be impacted next year with the move to a single calendar, according to administrators.

And that’s where the learning environment comes in. Educators say the current system causes too much upheaval, from long bus rides and consistently late students to disrupted school “communities” that never seem to get entirely settled.

The board was convinced, voting unanimously to end the district’s split personality among elementary schools.

But the tough decision is still ahead - which calendar should be adopted? As one would expect, the district has supporters of both the traditional and nontraditional approaches. School principals and the panels that represent classified and certified staff must evaluate the calendar options before one comes before the school board for approval.

It would be shocking if that doesn’t garner some intense discussion. Because the two nontraditional schools are essentially schools of choice, parents of students attending them have made a conscious decision to embrace the out-of-the-ordinary calendar. Now, there’s a chance that choice will be taken away. We suspect some of them will have something to say about that.

Likewise, the traditional-calendar students have made their own choices to stick with three months off in the summer and a more compact school year.

No matter what calendar is selected, one group or the other will feel forced into an unwanted schedule.

Poore has presented information about potential hybrid calender that adds additional days off in October, February and April to the traditional calendar. It’s got possibilities, but the numbers certainly suggest the least disruption would come from simply shifting the two nonconforming schools to the schedule of the eight others.

We’re not saying that will be, or necessarily should be, the end result, but plenty of political bodies have been known to travel the path of least resistance.

The really, really big decision will be rezoning of attendance zones, a process that must happen at least when an 11th elementary school comes online in 2017. That’s where the often-thankless job of serving on a school board is at its most thankless. It’s our hope the school board is as united in a decision affecting those zones and resist caving, as has been done at other times, to one vocal or influential neighborhood that doesn’t want its kids thrown in with the wrong bunch.

One person the other day suggested he already knows what the school board will do: Hire a consultant.


El Dorado News-Times, Dec. 21, 2015

AGFC should look at size of deer herd

No matter what the situation is, we can count on the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to paint a bright picture.

Each fall, the official story is that the duck population and migration is the biggest and best in recorded history.

Hunters in blinds from Blytheville to Lake Village might not be seeing even a spoonbill, but AGFC’s line will usually be that ducks are falling from the skies like leaves in in a gusty wind.

There could be a reason for that. Game and Fish has hunting licenses and duck stamps to sell. It’s more difficult to sell those licenses and stamps if the hunting forecast isn’t rosy.

Each summer, we learn from the official sources that the state’s deer herd is strong and plentiful, but hunters in the woods tell us that’s not the case.

Our own anecdotal evidence supports that position.

A few years ago, we made a trip from Jonesboro to outside Hampton one December night. The first deer showed up in the highway median inside the city limits of Jacksonville. By the time we pulled into camp, more than 110 deer had crossed our path.

Last week, we made a similar trip, twice, and saw four deer, total. True enough, moon phases and weather conditions and other factors could have contributed to the scarcity of deer in those particular hours, but the difference in more than a hundred deer and fewer than a handful is striking, to say the least.

It’s not in the Game and Fish Commission’s interest to explain that the state’s deer herd is shrinking, but it is a responsibility.

Hunting and fishing are huge financial interests in this state. Hundreds of millions of dollars get spent in this state each year by men and women who chase deer, ducks, elk, feral hogs and other animals. Cities such as El Dorado and Camden and Monticello rake in lots of sales tax dollars from hunters

The state’s voters approved a statewide conservation sales tax to help fund the Game and Fish Commission’s efforts.

Most of the time, we trust that the experts at Game and Fish are doing the right things to manage wildlife in the state. Regarding the deer herd, implementing the three-point rule some years back has been a good thing, but it seems that maybe AGFC has gotten too liberal on its doe bag limits.

Fortunately, this is an issue that has a simple and quick remedy.

The Game and Fish Commission should rein in the annual bag limit in South Arkansas from six to four deer. Beyond that, AGFC has implemented too many doe days and youth hunts with the extended seasons we have. Having those special hunts is fine, but shave off a few days of the modern gun season to ease off some of the pressure on the deer herd.

If we were able to keep a few more does in the herd, in just a couple years, we should see a significant jump in the number of deer walking out in front of hunters.

Here’s the thing: Some hunters in the state kill a full bag, but most do not. Most hunters care more about getting out in the woods and spending time with family and friends. They don’t measure a hunt’s success by carcasses. But, even those hunters like the idea of seeing a few deer.

Sitting out on a stand for three or four days and not seeing a single deer is disheartening. That sort of experience might lead hunters to sitting at home and watching football games.

It might take that to get AGFC’s attention.


Texarkana Gazette, Dec. 18, 2015

Considering GOP debate No. 5

Each of the Republican presidential candidates brings something good to the race for the GOP nomination and some things not so good. In the fifth and final GOP debate of the year, the candidates on the main stage, and even a few on the “undercard,” presented ideas and positions that many Republican voters would consider far better than those we have now under the president we have now.

Donald Trump continued to channel Republican voter anger on several issues, including the feeling that the U.S. is no longer “great,” a word Trump does not define, but which resonates with the foam finger “we’re number one” crowd. Terrorism and illegal immigration are Trump’s other main issues and he hit them hard Tuesday night.

In some ways, Trump is President Obama’s flipside. Trump believes he has the personality to force his largely undeveloped ideas on the country and that no one - not the courts, Congress or the U.S. Constitution can stop him.

Jeb Bush fought back, but seemed overwhelmed at times by Trump’s verbal fire. Bush’s best line to Trump was “you can’t insult your way to the presidency.” No one else dared to take on Trump.

Marco Rubio was and has been throughout these debates the most skilled and polished debater, a white-collar man, up against blue-collar brawlers like Trump and Chris Christie. Rubio is cool, calm and projects a Kennedy-esque image of youthful energy and competence. Whether voters will take a chance on another one-term senator whose previous experience, like Obama, was in state legislature is, itself, a matter up for debate that won’t be settled until the first votes are cast.

Ditto for Sen. Ted Cruz, who now leads Trump in Iowa polls. Like Trump and Christie, Cruz is a fighter, but Rubio landed a punch when he criticized Cruz for voting to end the government’s collection of metadata information, which Rubio believes is essential to protecting the U.S. from terror attacks.

The problem with the argument over metadata is not that the government lacks information about terrorists, but that it is often constrained from using it by laws, court decisions and boneheaded policies, as illustrated in the Department of Homeland Security’s “Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Training Do’s and Don’ts” manual. In that document, trainees are told, “Don’t use training that equates radical thought, religious expression, freedom to protest, or other constitutionally-protected activity, with criminal activity. One can have radical thoughts/ideas, including disliking the U.S. government, without being violent; for example, trainers who equate the desire for Sharia law with criminal activity violate basic tenets of the First Amendment.”

So if it walks like a duck, etc., it’s not a duck?

The public does not get the answers it needs from these debates for several reasons. First, there are still too many people on the stage. Only three, possibly four, have any real chance of becoming president. For the good of the country those single-digit candidates should drop out after Iowa and New Hampshire and certainly by the South Carolina primary, if they fail to finish strong.

Details on how the candidates would actually reach their stated goals - making America great again, protecting the country, reducing the debt, creating jobs, health care, fixing the tax code, fighting wars - are addressed only in sound bites because there isn’t enough time to discuss details. Yes, the candidates have websites and there are other sources where those details are available, but how many voters in the TV age will take the time to search for them?

The real winner in these debates is Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. Little attention is being paid to her, though the FBI continues with its investigation into whether she broke the law by receiving and sending classified information on her private email server. In the still unlikely event she is indicted, all bets are off and the chances of a Republican victory next November would be all but assured. The question is, which Republican?

Too bad we can’t elect a composite president.

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