The Billings Outpost

Finding new ways up - Climbing wall spurs student involvement

By MADELEINE CUMMINGS - Special to The Outpost

PRYOR – Armed with about $8,000 in grant money and a box of donated climbing harnesses and shoes, Pryor teacher Loren Rausch set out last year to share one of his life’s passions with his students at Plenty Coups High School.

Rausch, a second-year science teacher at the school, has long been a rock-climbing aficionado, climbing in Alaska and Nepal between finishing his undergraduate degree and starting his job in Pryor. So, during his first year at Plenty Coups, which is located on the Crow Reservation, Rausch started ordering parts to build a 22-foot climbing wall in the school’s gymnasium.

Most of the materials were purchased using a tiny portion of a state-funded school improvement grant Plenty Coups received. And over the last year, shop teacher Rod Richard spent more than 200 hours drilling holes, painting plywood, and, finally, adding ropes.

The wall debuted in October for students, complete with four color-coded routes and the phrase “climbing to higher education” written across its face. So far, the wall has accomplished more than Rausch, a 33-year-old from Shepherd, ever imagined. It has provided students at this struggling school with not just a new hobby, but impromptu science lessons, a reason to come to school and a deeper connection to him and to each other.

Last Updated on Saturday, 10 January 2015 13:10

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Legislators head to Helena - School choice advocates take charge


Much has already been made of the news that the Montana House Education Committee will be led during the 2015 legislative session by two prominent supporters of school choice and charter schools.

But since Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock is likely to veto any attempts to bring school choice to Montana, it’s the long game that is more interesting, and in that sense backers of school choice seem positioned to prevail someday soon.

“They probably see themselves one governor away from having what they want: to privatize Montana public schools,” said Eric Feaver, head of the Montana Education Association-Montana Federation of Teachers.

Jeff Laszloffy, a former state legislator and head of the Montana Family Foundation, which has been leading the charge for school choice, doesn’t agree that choice equals privatization, but he said Feaver is right about how close the battle is.

“Eric knows he’s hanging on by his fingernails,” Laszloffy said.

Last Updated on Thursday, 01 January 2015 16:32

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Legislators head to Helena - Healthcare, crime among top topics

By MICHAEL WRIGHT - and MADELYN BECK - Community News Service - UM School of Journalism

From across the state, Montana’s citizen lawmakers are heading to Helena next week to debate a bevy of issues ranging from health care to higher education.

Montana’s 64th Legislature is scheduled to start Jan. 5. Republicans control both the state Senate and House of Representatives, but they’ll have to contend with Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock to accomplish anything of substance.

Job No. 1 will be funding state services for the next two years, but there’s plenty on lawmakers’ plates besides that. More than 1,900 pieces of legislation have either been introduced or are in the drafting stage.

Here’s a rundown of some of topics you’ll hear more about during the 90-day session.

Expanding health coverage

A plan to provide health care for some 70,000 of the state’s lowest-income people – something that failed in the last session – is back on the Legislature’s agenda.

Last session, Republicans blocked Gov. Steve Bullock’s proposal to expanded Medicaid to cover more Montanans. The federal government offered to pay most of the costs as part of the federal Affordable Care Act, but GOP leaders feared it would cost too much money for both the federal and state governments.

Bullock isn’t giving up. The expansion is included in his budget as part of its “Healthy Montana” plan. It’s modeled on the Healthy Montana Kids program that Montana has followed for almost 10 years.

“It’s the only proposal like it in the nation,” said Dave Parker, Bullock’s communications director. The plan would allow the state to use hundreds of millions of federal dollars to contract with a private insurer to provide health insurance for low-income Montanans at negotiated rates.

Sen. Ed Buttrey, R-Great Falls, likes that the plan is unique to Montana but said he wants to know more about how it would work. He also wants assurances that the system would not be wasteful or susceptible to abuse.

“We want to make sure that folks who can provide for themselves are doing that,” Buttrey said.

Last Updated on Friday, 02 January 2015 16:34

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Wind project under way


Site work on what is proposed to be the biggest wind farm in Montana started last week about 10 miles southeast of Bridger.

“That’s a huge project,” Carbon County Commissioner John Prinkki said. “It’s an exciting project.”

The proposed Mud Springs Wind Ranch Project would have 120 enormous turbines generating a total of 240 megawatts, about 30 megawatts more than the biggest existing project in the state, the Glacier Wind Farm near Shelby.

The project was put together by John Husar of Billings, the owner of Mud Springs Wind Development Inc., and the engineer on the project is Electrical Consultants Inc., also of Billings. Husar said all county, state and federal permits have been obtained. Brian Spangler, head of the Department of Environmental Quality’s renewable energy program, confirmed that DEQ assisted Husar with state permitting for the project.

“There’s nothing else standing in the way of this project,” Husar said, then added, “maybe the weather.”

The big partner in the $550 million project is EverPower, a Pittsburgh, Pa., company that already operates seven wind farms producing a total of 752 megawatts. Kevin Sheen, senior director of development and public relations for EverPower, said the company has another 20 projects in various stages of development, including the Bridger project, that should be producing about 1,000 megawatts within three years.

Last Updated on Thursday, 25 December 2014 13:13

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