- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Southwest Times Record. Feb. 11, 2018.

The Fort Smith School Board will consider putting a millage increase on the May ballot, possibly the 6.88 mill increase recommended by a citizens committee, or something close. If it chooses to do so, we hope it’s for the right reasons, especially after hearing many of the district’s buildings are in poor condition. Any funds from a millage increase must be used for school building upgrades and not for other projects, at least until we can say each building is up to par. The millage rate has not increased in more than 30 years, and with so many of Fort Smith’s schools in need of upgrades, now is the right time to do so.

A recent assessment of our local school buildings paints a bleak picture. The district received an overall rating of “fair” based on things such as parking and sidewalks, interior and exterior condition, educational adequacy and building systems such as electrical, plumbing and security. “Fair” means they’re only just OK, and many of the buildings - too many - received a rating of poor on many, if not all, of the categories.

Fort Smith’s students deserve to receive their education in buildings that are more than just “fair” (and in some cases, more than just “poor”). Schools that are housed in older buildings, including Belle Point Center and Trusty Elementary, received a lower assessment than the newer buildings, although schools like Northside and Southside high schools received only a mix of fair and poor ratings. Only three schools - Kimmons Junior High and Howard and Sutton elementary schools - received good ratings across the board. That means all other schools are falling short for various reasons, something we find unacceptable. It’s even been recommended that Trusty Elementary, which received some of the worst assessment ratings, be shut down. While that’s a shame, it’s also a reality that the costs involved in a massive upgrade may be too much for the district to overcome.



There’s a lengthy wish list for Fort Smith schools based on its strategic plan and recommendations from the citizens committee. Storm shelters added at each high school at a cost of $2.7 million each were recommended and are something we believe is an absolute must for our community. There’s also a call to add additional resource officers and nurses at each school and add a variety of other positions, including a grant writer. The citizens committee recommended going forward with some, but not all, of the items on the wish list in its call for a millage increase. The school board is not bound by the committee’s recommendations, and it will not vote on whether to put the millage increase on the ballot until later this month.

The goals are lofty, to be sure, and it’s unrealistic to expect that each will be accomplished in a short amount of time, but a millage rate increase offers the hope of funding once the highest priorities are laid out, and certainly the capital improvements are among them. Fort Smith’s rate - 36.5 - is one of the lowest in the region. Each new mill will generate about $1,450,000, based on a 95 percent collection rate.

But increasing a millage must be done with the right projects - and right people - in mind. The right people are the students, of course. Parents and the community as a whole should want better and deserve to know area children are receiving an education in a safe environment that offers them the best opportunities available. Certainly the capital improvements at each building must be a priority. How safe would you feel if your child was attending school in a building that received a “poor” rating?

Other projects like a performing arts center and new athletic building, even a third high school, have been batted around for a number of years. A career and technical center has been recommended, as have new gyms at the high schools. And while those projects may sound exciting for our area, now isn’t the right time. The district must fix the problems it currently has before moving on to other things. Several school board members have indicated they would agree to put the millage increase on the ballot if it’s handled responsibly and earmarked for school upgrades. “I can’t support a millage increase that diverts money away from the classroom,” board member Wade Gilkey said recently.

Formal recommendations from a citizens committee will be made to the school board at the end of the month. The committee has discussed priorities for the Fort Smith Schools, including how to finance those priorities. The committee has recommended putting the millage increase on the ballot, but ultimately, it’s up to the school board. We support a millage increase in order to finance needed upgrades at our local schools, but we urge the board to consider it only if capital improvements to the district’s buildings - fixing problems that need to be fixed - are the reasons behind it. Upgrades are desperately needed, and the millage increase is the right way to finance them.

___

Texarkana Gazette. Feb. 13, 2018.

Mardi Gras is here.

Fat Tuesday. Traditionally he last day of fun before the somber season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday.

Mardi Gras celebrations are rooted in the Catholic faith. Lent - which commemorates the 40 days Jesus Christ spent fending off temptation in the wilderness - means sacrifice, fasting and penitence. That’s all well and good. But people being people, 40 days is a long time without the sins of the flesh. So many decided the night before Ash Wednesday was the ideal time to indulge in lavish meals and heavy drinking forbidden during Lent.

Over the years, dancing and other forms of revelry were added to the food and drink. Costumes, parades, and the like followed. Worldwide the capital of Mardis Gras is Rio de Janeiro. The Brazilian city is known for its lavish celebration, called Carnival, which dates back to the 1700s and attracts 2 million people per day.

In the U.S., though, Mardi Gras is traditionally associated with New Orleans. The famed and mysterious Krewes hold balls and parades and fun-seekers from all over converge on the French Quarter and Garden District. Many other cities, including Mobile, Alabama, Galveston, Texas, and Savannah, Georgia, also hold elaborate festivities.

We even celebrate - on a much more modest scale - here in Texarkana.

Many local bars and clubs will be full of happy people in funny hats, masks and beads, celebrating, dancing and singing.

And that’s fine.

Most of us - even the most festive - will greet Ash Wednesday with little more than a headache and good intentions for Lenten discipline.

But some won’t be so fortunate.

Whenever you have a lot of people out drinking, the incidence of drunken driving goes up. So do arrests. So do accidents.

The police will be out in force. If you celebrate with adult beverages, don’t get behind the wheel. Strong waters dull the senses and can lead you into believing you are safe to drive. You aren’t.

You could wind up behind bars, facing a hefty fine, drivers’ license suspension and much higher insurance rates.. And that’s if you are lucky. You might end up in the hospital. Or the morgue. Or you might send someone else to one of the two.

Think about it. Think hard.

Let the good times roll. But don’t let the good times roll all over you.

___

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Feb. 13, 2018.

In a tribute to the resilience of the American system, what the Speaker of the House summed up all too well as “a second needless shutdown in a matter of weeks” turned out to be just a blip on the country’s radar screen.

Congratulations to all those in Congress and out who designed this trade-off that nobody’s crazy about but all can live with. This is called the art of compromise, also known as politics, and here’s proof it can still be practiced. The devil’s still in the details, but so are the angels.

Despite all this president’s huffing and puffing, the leaders of both the minority and majority in Congress are to be commended for taking the reins and pressing forward to achieve bipartisan agreement. Now it’s all over but the after-action report, which is bound to make assuring reading - with a glaring exception or two provided by the usual aginners.

How is this deal good news? Let us count the ways:

- The deal provides badly needed dollars to shore up the American military abroad while financing vital economic programs at home. It lifts the debt ceiling and allows the government of the United States to continue operating instead of having to shut down. Our lawmakers were not cowed by the president’s partisan threats, as when he told a meeting of law enforcement officers, among others: “I’d love to see a shutdown if we don’t get this stuff taken care of. If we have to shut it down because the Democrats don’t want safety, then shut it down.”

But that shouldn’t happen now thanks to farsighted congressional leaders and the grace of a God who still looks after fools, drunkards, and the United States of America. Even the president now has calmed down and shown he can be a force for compromise instead of conflict.

- The deal finances the Children’s Health Insurance Program for up to a whole decade, which is a big win for some nine million American kids—and their parents—who depend on it. An ounce of prevention is still worth pounds and pounds of cure.

- The deal addresses the opioid epidemic in this country by appropriating $6 billion to fight it and tackle a variety of other needs like better health care for our veterans and better bridges and highways. It also keeps the National Institutes of Health in business.

- The deal provides $90 billion more to repair the damage caused by a spate of hurricanes and wildfires from California to Florida.

So what’s not to like about this deal? Nothing that it includes but various things it doesn’t, like protection for all the Dreamers who were brought to this country as children and by now have become grown-ups who are still waiting for the American dream to come true for them, too.

Tie this dynamite issue, which is still ticking away, to proposals that would beef up security along the nation’s southern border, and another good deal should be in the offing. For those pursuing justice may only have begun not to fight, but to negotiate.

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