Colorado Editorial Roundup
Vail Daily, June 11, on Interstate 70 congestion survey:
This newspaper last week picked up a story from our colleagues at the Summit Daily News about an Interstate 70 user survey. The news seemed dire: People seem to be coming to mountain communities along I-70 less often.
The survey was conducted by RRC Associates for the I-70 Coalition, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving conditions on the interstate. More than 450 people who park at park-and-ride lots near Morrison were interviewed, and their responses do seem sobering: Roughly two-thirds of respondents said traffic congestion has affected how often they travel to the mountains.
That’s not good news and will reinforce those calling for the state and its recreation industry to do something about I-70 congestion. And that’s where the real problems would arise.
The fact is that I-70 congestion is almost entirely a weekend problem. Any realistic solution, from highway widening to building a technically feasible but wildly unaffordable rail line, would be likely to create more problems than solutions.
Even if the billions needed for any kind of real solution could be somehow pried out of either state coffers or users’ pockets, do we really want a 24/7/365 solution to what’s roughly a 100-day problem?
The prospect of a roughly 60-minute train trip between Edwards and downtown Denver would almost certainly put more pressure on home inventories and prices. An even quicker trip between Frisco and Denver would add more pressure on that area’s housing inventory and prices.
Increased land costs would also further hamper efforts to create workforce housing for locals.
That’s just one possible downside to easier access to the mountains.
And with the full understanding that the economies of mountain resorts depend on visitors, do we really want to open up our communities to the potential of thousands more guests?
Visitors are always welcome, of course, but what does easier access do to the character of our communities?
Weekend traffic on I-70 can stink much of the time — and is actually heavier in the summer — and with the state’s continued population growth, that isn’t going to change. But the reality is that people still come. Incremental changes — from toll lanes to tire laws to continued work to keep the interstate open during snowstorms — can help, without endangering the reasons people come to the mountains in the first place.
The Pueblo Chieftain, June 11, on high water advisories on the Arkansas River:
The people who run rafting excursion businesses along the Arkansas River are a pretty hardy group of adventurers. So if they’re avoiding certain stretches of the river due to dangerous conditions, it’s time for the rest of us to take notice.
High water advisories have been issued for Pine Creek and The Numbers, both located between Granite and Vista, as well as the Royal Gorge area west of Canon City. As a result, the outfitting companies voluntarily have decided not to take rafters into those areas right now.
That’s smart and commendable that they are taking the safety of their customers seriously. Water flows in those parts of the river have exceeded what are considered to be acceptable levels.
There’s no big mystery why. We had an unusually wet winter and now snow from the mountains is melting and flowing downstream at a rapid rate.
Eventually, the dangerous conditions will subside. Which is good because the Arkansas River is both a recreational amenity for local residents and a draw for tourists.
Many of us plan to spend part of the summer rafting, kayaking, tubing or fishing along the river. And some of us rely on tourism generated along the Arkansas to pay our bills.
But safety is a key. The river can be a dangerous place, even when water levels aren’t as high as they are now. People who raft on excursions run by professional outfitters should obey the rules to avoid careless mishaps. And those who try rafting, kayaking or tubing on their own should be aware of river conditions and not attempt to venture into areas that are beyond their levels of expertise.
And of course wearing life jackets and helmets always is recommended when boating or swimming in the river.
Information on water levels is available at: https://cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/Parks/ArkansasHeadwatersRecreationArea .
Even now, there are plenty of places along the river that are safe. Outfitters are taking groups to stretches on Browns Canyon north of Salida and the Big Horn Sheep Canyon west of Canon City. The water levels there are still sufficient to make trips both fun and challenging.
The Arkansas River is one of the features that make this part of Colorado a great place to live. It does, however, need to be treated with respect.
The Denver Post, June 7, on state intervention for failing schools:
Colorado schools have been on notice for a decade that if students in their care fall further behind their peers year after year, the state will intervene to try and turn the school or district around.
For one school and one entire district, the time for state intervention has arrived.
The road ahead for the Adams County School District 14 in Commerce City and Pueblo’s Risley International Academy of Innovation in Pueblo City Schools is bumpy to be certain — these school turnaround efforts often fail to produce results or bring short-term gains only to find the school right back on the list of underperforming schools.
But the Colorado State Board of Education must do something.
That something is to give almost all management control to MGT, a for-profit consulting group, that works with the University of Virginia to help improve schools across the nation. It’s no surprise that teachers and parents have concerns about handing over the reins of their local school to an out-of-state company with a modest track record of work in this field.
We are however dismayed that the Pueblo Education Association, the local teacher’s union, has sued the state seeking a court injunction to stop the planned intervention in a failing school. According to the complaint, the union is particularly concerned about its contract and that the private management firm could recommend the termination of employees to the school board and, gasp, the school board will have to “give appropriate consideration to the recommendations of the manager and not unreasonably withhold its approval.”
We fail to see how that could possibly be a bad thing. If there are folks working at Risley who MGT determines are detrimental to the important mission of getting these kids caught up to grade level, then the board should consider their termination and be reasonable about the decision.
There are good teachers at Risley who need to be celebrated for their hard work at a school beset by challenges, particularly that 98% qualify for free or reduced lunch. Poverty and all of the hardships that come with it make learning and teaching a difficult endeavor.
But clearly, the school can do better. In the right environment, we know these students will begin to make gains academically and one day catch their peers.
The Pueblo Teacher’s Union also bemoans in the complaint the $424,000 that MGT could be paid in the 2019 fiscal year for services, claiming Pueblo is obligated to “provide equitable funding to all of its schools.”
The situation at Risley is dire and they need special focus, attention and, yes, funding. Students at the school have the very lowest test scores in the entire state in many categories, and at best score in the 5th percentile in a single category. That would be bad news for the school, but what tips the school into needing a state takeover is that test scores indicate that the students are in the lowest categories for improvement as well. Taken together, the two metrics tell us students will leave more behind their peers than when they started.
Interventions are necessary.
In 2009 Colorado lawmakers passed Senate Bill 163, which gave the State Board of Education the authority to step in when a school has failed for five consecutive years. This is the first time, since the law was passed, that the state has had to step in.
It’s good to have a healthy skepticism about these drastic improvement plans. There is one thing we know for certain, however: In 10 years, the school district in Pueblo and the teacher’s union have been unable to improve conditions for the 326 students at Risley middle school.