Wednesday, June 30, 2004

School deaths are up in the United States.
That's according to a page-one article in Tuesday's USA Today. Forty-eight students died either at school, on the way to or from school or at a school activity.
The article notes that this number includes homicides and suicides.
Why the increase? Gangs and budget problems were cited. The war on terrorism has drained money that had been going to anti-drug programs and to programs that were designed to improve school safety.
A quote from Sanford Newman, president of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, sums it up. "At a time when gang violence is rising, it's penny-wise and pound-foolish to be cutting juvenile crime prevention funding at all."
Newman is right on the money, though he has an obvious prejudice.
Sept. 11 and budget problems have been cited for a lot of difficulties. I doubt if anyone questions the money that was used to increase security in the United States after 9-11, or even the money that was used when coalition forces attacked Afghanistan.
But there is a big problem with the money that was spent on the war with Iraq and with the current rebuilding process. No one has shown that the war was related to the war on terrorism. That is money that could be used for the school-related programs and to help lessen a huge number of society's problems.
Another problem is the incredible shortsightedness of officials when it comes to dealing with budgetary problems. As usual, it is easy to cite the Diamond R-4 School District. How in the world can a superintendent leave a school of 800 students with only one counselor? Yes, Rob Lundien was technically a middle school counselor last year, but he was teaching a full class load.
Consider what happened in the school last year. A sixth grader died early in the first semester. Though a "crisis team' was put in place, that lasted for one day. The problems caused by the death of someone you know last longer than 24 hours, even for adults, but for young people, the effects can last a long time.
At virtually the same time, an eighth grader tried to kill herself. Middle school is a trying time, even for the most well-adjusted students. It is a time when boys and girls are not sure where they belong, or if they belong, and there is no time when it is more essential to have a counselor available to help them through these difficulties.
At the same time that the school was cutting the hours that Rob Lundien was counseling middle schoolers and putting the elementary counselor on an unpaid leave of absence because "she affected the least number of students on an everyday basis" (words of wisdom courtesy of Superintendent Mark Mayo), the school was fully funding a high school wrestling program, fully funding a high school golf team, paying the golf team coach $3,000 for that job,and paying two people during one of the years to operate a copy center.
The time to reach young people, to help them get through their problems and to achieve their goals, is when they are in their elementary and middle school years. If you wait until high school, it is too late.
When programs that can help them are eliminated, and counselors and teachers who perhaps can reach them when no one else can, are placed on the budgetary chopping block across the United States, it will eventually become a major problem for society.
If that comes to pass, we may end up looking on a year when only 48 people died in our schools as the good old days.
According to the Associated Press and reports on the local TV stations, Secretary of State Matt Blunt is promising some big changes for education if he is elected governor in November.
Blunt noted that pay for Missouri teachers ranked 44th out of the 50 states in 2003. Obviously, I appreciate anyone who wants to increase teacher salaries, but Blunt is also promising to cut bureaucracy so that more money can be put into education.
Easier said than done.
At the same time, either Blunt or State Auditor Claire McCaskill would have to be better than the current governor, Bob Holden. Holden has to be the weakest governor Missouri has had since Joe Teasdale in the late '70s. If he doesn't lose to Ms. McCaskill in the Democratic primary in August, it would be almost a shock if he beat Blunt in November.
Another Associated Press article on page three of the Tuesday Carthage Press relates that the jury ruled against four employees of the Jasper Popcorn Company in their lawsuit against the companies that were responsible for the popcorn flavoring. The four alleged that the companies were responsible for the lung injuries that had left them disabled.
I'm not going to comment on the case, only on the way it was covered. The Associated Press is a wonderful tool for small town newspapers. It can take you everywhere from Jefferson City to New York to Washington to Afghanistan. This particular article took The Carthage Press Carthage.
During the days when I was the managing editor at The Press, if there was a major criminal or civil trial in Carthage, I would never have considered covering it by pulling copy off the wire. That would be a major embarrassment.
I don't blame the present managing editor, Ron Graber. His hands are undoubtedly tied by shortsighted corporate bosses who have put profit and reaching all kinds of demographics ahead of actually doing what makes newspapers a success...covering the news.
The local newspaper has one area in which it has a big advantage. The Carthage Press can't beat TV or the internet on covering state, national, or international news, but it can beat them 10 ways from Sunday on covering local news.
The Press isn't the only local newspaper that has cut its own throat through the misguided pursuit of the almighty dollar. It's the norm for small-town daily newspapers everyday.
I still remember what Doug Davis, the publisher of The Lamar Democrat, did about 16 years ago. The Democrat was losing money. Instead of cutting the news hole (the amount of space used for news), Doug gambled, raised the newsstand price of the paper from 25 to 50 cents, increased subscription rates and poured money into the news product.
No, he didn't allow me to go out and get high-priced reporters. But he did allow me to begin a paid internship program for high school and college-age students. Using three of the kids at a time, plus a hard-working 60-year-old named Judy Probert, we blanketed Barton County with coverage and we did not lose any subscribers because of the price hike. In fact, we gained a few.
And that program, which started thanks to the courage of Doug Davis, and which I later successfully took to Carthage, has been responsible for introducing a number of students to journalism, including reporters who have worked at The Kansas City Star, the Topeka Capital-Journal, The Joplin Globe, KODE-TV, and papers in Kansas and Texas. It also produced the current journalism instructor at Lamar High School, the person in charge of publications for Wal-Mart's corporate headquarters, and reporters for Focus on the Family and Country Music Weekly.
And it all started because Doug Davis knew something that most of the small-town publishers seem to have can't expect people to buy your newspaper just because it is the hometown newspaper. You have to give them something of value. And the most valuable franchise newspapers have is local news.
Back to the personal stuff, I have finished reading civil rights lawyer Constance Baker Motley's autobiography. After a slow beginning, it became interesting as she related working with Thurgood Marshall on the Brown vs. Board of Education case, and her lead work on getting James Meredith admitted as the first black student at the University of Mississippi.
The most fascinating part of the book was how she dealt not only with prejudice against blacks, but also prejudice against women.
Tonight's movie was "Idiot's Delight," a 1939 anti-war movie starring Clark Gable. Gable was great and for those who only know him from movies like "Gone with the Wind," it might come as a surprise that he is a pretty good song-and-dance man and is very entertaining in a production number of "Puttin' on the Ritz." (Though not anywhere near as entertaining as Peter Boyle and Gene Wilder were doing the same number in "Young Frankenstein.")
The movie dealt with the outbreak of world war in Europe and a group of entertainers, led by Gable, who are stranded a hotel in an unspecified country which is about to come under attack.
Robert E. Sherwood wrote the screenplay, based on his own successful play, and like so many filmed plays, especially in the early days of movies, it comes across rather stagy.
Gable always knew that when it came to movie acting less is more. Unfortunately, his leading lady, Norma Shearer, didn't learn that same lesson. She overacts horribly as does Burgess Meredith in a supporting role as a pacifist.
I liked the movie. It held my interest throughout, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it to anyone who isn't a Clark Gable fan.

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