Saturday, February 26, 2011

Schools in Iron County

We have two school districts here in Iron County,
Michigan. At one time, when transportation was
much slower, and therefore more difficult, we
had more, but consolidation of schools seems to
have arrested just in time that we are presently
stuck with two, along with a continuously
declining population. Unfortunately the official
census numbers for 2010 are not available as
yet, but the estimates we have predict a poor
future for us.

The State of Michigan has published an outlook
for population. Beginning in 2000, we had13,138
souls living here. By 2009 the official estimate
was 11,633, a decline of about 12%. We
experienced a corresponding decrease in student
population for the same period. The West Iron
School District has closed one school and
eliminated at least those programs that the new
Windsor Center says they’ve taken over and are
requesting tax money to fund. In a way, the
school district “mined” the middle school as an
asset by putting off replacing the entire roof on
schedule because they knew they were divesting
themselves of the building. Similarly other
maintenance was avoided or minimized, yielding
some financial advantage to the school district.

That school building was erected in 1929,
providing maintenance issues that will eventually
demand its demise.

Looking at the realities, population has declined,
but the amount of property in Iron County has
remained the same, ergo, the tax base providing
funding our school districts has not experienced
a corresponding decrease. In short, the West
Iron School District has fewer students, fewer
teachers, one less building, and has cut some
after school programs, while having essentially
the same property tax based income.

Shouldn’t our school taxes be reduced since
costs have been dropping? If West Iron School
District had a total student population of 1,
what would happen to our school taxes? Exactly
when do the savings due to a consistently falling
student population, along with a reduction in
services, get reflected in our taxes? Could this
school district justify school taxes if there were
no students at all?

In the past few days, Associate Editor Ben Smith
brought House Bill 4214 to our attention.

“Introduced by Rep. Al Pscholka (R) on February
9, 2011, to add to the conditions that can trigger
the appointment of an Emergency Financial
Manager for fiscally failing municipalities and
school districts, and greatly enhance the powers
of EFMs. They would have the power to cancel
or amend existing government or school
employee union collective bargaining
agreements and other contracts. School EFMs
would have authority over academic matters.
An EFM could also order new borrowing, or put
a property tax millage increase on the ballot.“

It is clear that some sort of parachute must be
in place to manage those taxing public bodies
that are failing. Instead of flatly embracing this
bill as the republicans are, or issuing a blanket
condemnation as the democrats have been, it
appears that some elements of the bill are
appropriate. The balance of the bill should be
the subject of negotiation, with significant input
from those whose business is education. The
first time the state thinks the solution to
resurrecting a failing school district is by
voiding contracts we will be in for the ride of a
lifetime involving the three branches of
government, executive, legislative, and
judicial. The resulting lawsuits wind their way
all the way to the US Supreme Court.

Here, in Iron County, we’re doing ourselves a
significant fiscal disservice by maintaining that
artificial East vs. West “better than thou”
dispute that’s gone on beginning at the
establishment of the county. Iron County has
seen the school consolidation many times
before. It is already several decades past the
time that the final consolidation should have
been done, and we should have a single school
district for the entire county.

It won't be a very big school district either!

All that needs to be done initially is the
consolidation into a single administrative arm
running all our schools, with one school board,
initially consisting of all the currently elected
members from both. Eventually the size of
the school board must be reduced to a more
manageable size. That final school board, as
the elected representatives of the people of
Iron County, should be the ones ultimately
making all the decisions about closing buildings
and divesting the responsibility for them.

The situation that exists here in Iron County,
with two school districts for a total population
of less than 12,000 souls, is absurd. It needs to
be fixed. Ultimately, school taxes could probably
be cut by 1/3 without impacting the quality of
the education that the children are receiving.

In fact, less focus on administration means
more attention could be given to the quality
of education.

Here, in Iron County, we are probably far
away from having an “Emergency Financial
Manager” come waltzing in to take over
either of our school districts. Still, we are
very far away from the sort of fiscal
responsibility we’re entitled to.

But it is up to the voting residents of the
county to force such changes.

What’s that going to take?

Bill Vajk

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

We Need a Secure Broadband

President Obama visited the Upper Peninsula of Michigan
on Thursday, Feb 10th and spoke at Marquette in the
Vandament Center. His purpose was to promote his program
hopeful of enhancing the availability of broadband accessibility
using WiFi as a vehicle in all of rural America

The President praised this country’s spirit for tackling major
and difficult programs to improve communications and
travel in the U.S.A. He began by citing the building of the
transcontinental railway in the mid 1800's, followed by the
CCC programs during the Great Depression, then he
continued with the building of the Interstate highway
system as proposed by Pres. Eisenhower.

(Editor's Note: At Philadelphia's 30th Street Station, formerly
belonging to The Pennsylvania Railroad, is a huge relief mural
entitled The Age of Transportation that begins with man
walking and ends with the airplane. It was a beautiful piece
of art originally commissioned for the Pennsy's Broad Street
Station but moved to 30th Street when station originally
housing the mural was demolished. It was completed in the
1920's or 1930's when the airplane was the latest mode known.)

He then made a comparison with Pres. Kennedy's " Ask not
what your country can do for you, ask rather what you can
do for your country" and explained the historical relationships
of our past endeavors as a nation to the program to make
broadband internet available to the sparsely populated rural
areas of the U.S.A. The once novel requirement that every
home in America should have telephone service available
now extends to the internet.

In a lighter mode the the President asked if their were any
Green Bay Packer fans in the house, and mentioned he was
happy to be among so manyYOOPERS.

Ben Smith was the only reporter from Iron County in

Ben Smith

Editor’s Note: We are pleased to have been represented
at this historic event in Marquette by Ben Smith. More
recent events about the internet raise altogether new
challenges to our country with the government proposing
to give POTUS (President of the US) a kill switch to the
internet in the case of a national emergency.

Some years ago (maybe 15) your humble correspondent
and Glen Roberts investigated and wrote an article for
Glen’s publication "Full Disclosure" concerning the
government taking matters into its own hands by
prosecuting children (hackers) who managed to acquire
copies of telephone company practices instead of insisting
that telephone company providers better manage the
security of their online servers.

The same exact problem exists today, with the
government jumping in to secure essential services for
the citizens by wresting an ultimate control tool where
much better, and much safer, alternatives exist. They
cite matters such as power plant control that shouldn’t
be subject to hacking by foreign interests intending to
do our nation and our culture harm.

It is clear, and has been for several decades now, that
in order to maintain security over such matters, a
secondary “internet” must be established that is
connected to only such “trusted systems” (there’s an
entire world of research and discussion available on
that topic) as are of national interest and in deed of
protection from general access by the world at large.

Giving POTUS a kill switch is for a preventative
measure can be taken only once the horse is already
out of the barn. Consider that on 9/11 the terrorists
entire program was executed within a few hours, and
that grounding all aircraft in the US was too little too

Granting POTUS a kill switch for the internet is more
of the same, but worse because it leads to a false sense
of security.

And what is worse yet is that there is no safety built
into the existing system of disseminating information
that promises security for a transmission that transfers
large amounts of money around the world, should the
entire US suddenly go off line during a significant
transfer. At the moment the internet goes dark, who
knows whether or not that transfer was successful. In
fact, who knows where that money actually is? Nobody.

There’s much more to this issue, and it will doubtless
be discussed in depth elsewhere.

But heads up, readers, turning off internet communications
isn’t anything like turning off the lights in your home. We
cannot transfer control of the internet to a single point
command where so many diverse interests are involved
with such repercussions as would fill volumes if cataloged
for discussion.

Who is responsible for my late payment if POTUS kills
the internet just as I am making an on-time payment to
a credit card, or a utility? What happens when my bank
has deducted the money for my account but the payee
never received it?

Bill Vajk

Thursday, February 10, 2011

How Does Population Decrease Affect Us?

We keep talking about Iron County’s loss of population but
very few people have looked at the numbers. Unfortunately
the 2010 census numbers aren’t available but the estimates
seem reasonable.

2000 2009 change
Iron County 13,138 11,633 -11.9%

Out of every 10 people you knew in the year 2000, more
than 1 of those people isn’t in Iron County any more.

The most stable is Mansfield Township, where the loss is
5.8%. In Mansfield Township out of every 20 people you
knew back in the year 2000, roughly 1 is no longer with

The source for these numbers is:

Closing Camp Ottawa cost Iron County 51 jobs. For all the
money spent by government on the new sawmill at Amasa,
how many jobs did that get us in the county?

There’s also some concern that the Central School project
that’s supposed to convert that facility into apartments isn’t
going to be funded after all.

With another 11.9% decrease in Iron County’s population
coming in this decade, perhaps someone can explain to me
why anyone in their right mind can think it might be a good
idea to build a new, fancy, expensive airport. Even if it
costs the Iron County taxpayers nothing to actually build
it, what of recurring maintenance and security costs?

And what if it gets partially built and funding dries up,
as it appears to have for the Central School? Can we board
over an airport, partially built? And once partially built,
how do we then manage to get the land back on the tax

Bill Vajk

Friday, February 4, 2011

Arport Committee Meeting Report

The Adhoc airport committee of Iron County

met on February 3, 2011. They decided to

continue seeking information concerning the

establishment of a new private airport for the

Iron County area.

To do so they appointed a subcommittee to

recommend a presentation to be made to the

Iron County Board of Commissioners in support

of their position that Iron County can get a grant

funded airport to provide local industrialist owners

with a better and SAFER place to fly their planes

into Iron County.

The meeting was attended by a representative of

U.S. senator Carl Levin, and newly elected State

Senator Casperson. The local media except the

Iron County Doings was NOT in attendance!

Associate editor Ben Smith, who attended the

meeting, also published this article on his web

page at IronCountyVoice.

The adhoc committee spent the entire evening

explaining their position that a new private airport

was needed to accommodate the larger planes of

the local business owners that wished to fly their

JETS or TWIN engine airplanes into Iron County.

During the meeting comments made by members

of the public were attacked routinely by members

of the adhoc airport committee. The only piece of

information received by the committee without

rancor was when this reporter submitted his


The committee was unclear as to whether any

funding was still available from a previous grant

to study an airport location. This reporter was told

by a committee member (John Faccin) that I knew

how to get the information (USE THE FOIA

process) that I had requested.

The meeting was attended by three members of

the public plus the representatives of and the

elected senator. The committee is planning on

telling the county commission of their desire to

build such an airport for the benefit of the local


Submitted by Ben Smith


Editor's Comments:

This was the second meeting of the newly appointed

Airport Committee. The last meeting produced one

page of official minutes that appear to have taken 15

minutes of meeting time. It would be nice to have had

a legitimately thorough set of minutes for the remaining

hour and a quarter that the meeting


It sounds as though this committee was configured to

produce a rubber stamp solution to the desires of two

or three businessmen who are seeking public funds for

their own convenience.

The only questions that are important in these regards is

whether or not the plane owning businessmen will fold up

their tents and move their businesses elsewhere of they

don't get their way.

The answer is, probably not. Hovey Companies is locked

in by contract to renovations for two buildings in Iron

County. They are not unlike the courthouse and hospital

renovations in that relatively little local employment is

implicit in their projects.

Oldenburg Group has a factory in Iron River that would

impose a significant cost to relocate. They have a relatively

new contract that precludes them from moving at this time.

Is it crucial for Oldenburg and a few others from corporate

headquarters to visit the Iron River facility frequently?

Probably not.

Krist Oil is Iron River based. If they moved corporate

headquarters to Eagle River or Kingsford, how much of a

difference would it make in local employment? Probably

insignificant. The Krist Oil management isn't stupid, they

would retain everyone they could even if they moved.

Other than the concerted effort by the three businessmen

to get Iron County to do their will, there's no real incentive

for our public body to become involved in this airport

project at this time.

On the other hand, if the three businessmen were to

contract with Iron County to completely fund all maintenance

and security all objections to a new airport would be disappear

with the posting of a sufficient bond to provide for contract

bound agreement covering the first ten years.

Unfortunately that's not likely to happen.

Bill Vajk

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