WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the Constitution’s “right to keep and bear arms” applies nationwide as a restraint on the ability of the federal, state and local governments to substantially limit its reach.In doing so, the justices, by a narrow 5-4 margin, signaled that less severe restrictions could survive legal challenges.Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the court, said the Second Amendment right “applies equally to the federal government and the states.”The court was split along familiar ideological lines, with five conservative-moderate justices in favor of gun rights and the four liberals, opposed.Two years ago, the court declared that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess guns, at least for purposes of self-defense in the home.That ruling applied only to federal laws. It struck down a ban on handguns and a trigger lock requirement for other guns in the District of Columbia, a federal city with a unique legal standing. At the same time, the court was careful not to cast doubt on other regulations of firearms here.Gun rights proponents almost immediately filed a federal lawsuit challenging gun control laws in Chicago and its suburb of Oak Park, Ill, where handguns have been banned for nearly 30 years. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence says those laws appear to be the last two remaining outright bans.Lower federal courts upheld the two laws, noting that judges on those benches were bound by Supreme Court precedent and that it would be up to the high court justices to ultimately rule on the true reach of the Second Amendment.The Supreme Court already has said that most of the guarantees in the Bill of Rights serve as a check on state and local, as well as federal, laws. Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup. Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox. Email
Pinwheels catch the wind near where Nathan Imhoff, center, stands with fellow Flathead High School students Tuesday on the lawn adjacent to the old county courthouse building in downtown Kalispell on Tuesday. Art students from Flathead decorated and planted hundreds of pinwheels throughout the rainy day as a part of the Pinwheels for Peace project and to celebrate International Day of Peace. The pinwheels – traditionally viewed childhood symbol – were meant to make a visual statement about peace, tolerance, cooperation, harmony and unity. For more information on the project, visit www.pinwheelsforpeace.com. – Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon Email Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup. Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.
Email HELENA – The Republican-led House backed full repeal Thursday of the state’s medical marijuana law, arguing it is time to undo the 2004 ballot initiative that spawned an industry few envisioned.House Speaker Mike Milburn, carrying the measure himself, said medical marijuana use has gone far beyond what voters approved and argued it is too late to attempt to rein it in. He said the medical marijuana law has led to an abundance of the drug in attracting a criminal element and an illegal trade that has moved into schools and even beyond state borders.“It is starting to undermine the entire fabric of our state,” Milburn told the House during floor debate. “It is time to take back our state and our culture and do what is best for Montana.”The House approved the repeal bill mostly along party lines 63-37. It faces one more largely procedural vote in that chamber before going to the Senate, where it is expected to face a tougher road. Several Republicans in the Senate are openly backing the alternative of strict regulation of the industry.House Democrats arguing against a full repeal of the medical marijuana law said it is wrong to completely get rid of a voter-approved initiative. They said the explosion of medical marijuana use over the past couple of years is the fault of the Legislature, which in several sessions since 2005, failed to implement any sort of regulation.“We had many years to regulate what 62 percent of voters approved, and did nothing,” said Rep. Pat Noonan, D-Butte.Democrats opposing the measure argue lawmakers should instead heavily regulate the industry, and leave repeal to voters if they so choose.A measure drafted over the past year in an interim committee would regulate the business and make it far more difficult to get a “green card,” especially for those seeking one for the most common ailment of chronic pain. That proposal, which also would charge the industry more fees to pay for the regulation, has stalled in a House committee.A Senate panel on Friday will be looking at a plan from Republican state Sen. Dave Lewis of Helena to raise about $16 million a year by taxing the industry to pay for far more intense regulation of the people who grow the medical marijuana and those who use it. This would include grants to local governments to deal with issues they face when dealing with the industry.Some towns and cities have banned medical marijuana businesses from operating within their jurisdiction because they don’t know whether the shops meet city codes or if they are too close to churches, schools or parks.Gov. Brian Schweitzer has said changes to the law are needed to deal with an unforeseen explosion in the industry, but has stopped short of calling for an outright repeal. But he has not proposed a solution either.Overflow crowds have testified at the Legislature during hearings on the various bills this session, with citizens telling lawmakers to tread carefully in dealing with medical marijuana used by more than 30,000 Montanans. Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup. Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.
Email Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup. Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox. In 2005, less than a quarter of Whitefish voters went to the polls for city elections. By 2007, Whitefish held a mail-in election and turnout more than doubled. Compared to Kalispell, where one in ten locals voted, the 2007 Whitefish turnout was a wild success. In the 2007 election, hydrologist John Muhlfeld bested a commercial real-estate broker, Turner Askew, by the wide margin of 1141 to 692 votes. Both businessmen are frugal stewards of the public dollar and can keep taxes down. And both currently serve on the Whitefish City Council. This fall they face off in the biggest race in the Flathead, for the mayor of Whitefish. The 2007 and 2009 Whitefish elections were ugly to watch. Real estate speculators spent gobs of campaign cash to muddy a clean-water debate. But water belongs to the people and is viewed by most locals as a precious resource still worthy of protection. In fact, Whitefish remains one of but a handful of cities across Montana that still acquires its drinking water from the surface. Most towns drill wells, but Whitefish chose in the 1990s to maintain an abundant and clean surface water system from Haskill Basin and Whitefish Lake. Whitefish is successful because people still believe that it is a local’s town. Old-timers and newcomers have been through “thick and thin” to balance that Whitefish character where locals can work hard and enjoy the great outdoors, raise a family and grow a small business. Montana has a long history of high voter turnout, topping states across the nation. But in the 2010 election, turnout plummeted statewide, with Whitefish-proper participation well below state average. And as the subsequent Montana Legislature so aptly portrayed, low turnout often benefits the fanatical fringe. To mitigate the Legislature’s insular dogma, Gov. Brian Schweitzer vetoed nearly 90 bills, many with his red-hot branding iron. Fringe politics thrives with low voter turnout. As former Congressman Pat Williams recently articulated in a column, “Low voter turnouts and lack of reasonable stability in our political choices are dangerous for America both here at home and certainly abroad.” Earlier this year, Councilor Askew voted against mail-in ballots, while Muhlfeld backed them. Whitefish voters will receive ballots in the mail by mid-October. In a news story announcing his candidacy, Askew indicates that he wants to champion the work of half the city council, those members elected in 2009. That election was decided by 90 votes, with plenty of campaign money influencing Whitefish from outside the district. Muhlfeld’s campaign literature states that “being an effective leader requires a balanced approach to problem solving, compromise and mutual respect.” It is those qualities that Muhlfeld has demonstrated during his past decade of public service. One could hope that the future of the Flathead municipalities excites voters the same way the Flathead Valley Community College trustee race did. In that case, moderates endorsed and voted for the best trustee candidates for the community. And they won, big. Voting is a patriotic duty. The character of communities like Whitefish, Kalispell and Columbia Falls depends on who votes this fall. And old-timers know it. Whitefish has prospered into a recreational economy. Still topping the minds of locals are jobs, great schools, access to parks and trails, and the conservation of public land and water. Clean water, recreational access, and a vibrant local economy are all part of the public good. Whitefish can expect more raucous elections for the next couple of years. The current races appear to be becoming as ugly an as any in recent memory. The voters in cities across Montana should get turnout rates back up to historic levels. Locals can assure that their community is put first, by simply going to the ballot box.
With the fall bringing varying temperatures, it is always good to have a list of a few potential places to jump outside for a quick walk, run or bike ride. The Monegan to Rocksund section of the Whitefish River Trails is a perfect addition to that list. As the trees begin to turn, the paved trail is a peaceful journey along the scenic Whitefish River and through the fall foliage. Traveling from the southern trailhead – found off JP Road – the trail meanders between condominium complexes and the river. From the north side off Monegan Road, the trail curves through flat fields and city-owned property. Between the two portions is the gem of the trail with a large gazebo and a picnic table – dedicated to the Rocksund family who donated the trail segment – and a picturesque pedestrian bridge spanning the river. Stop to look at the decorated pillars adorned with clay tiles designed and created by community members marking each corner of the bridge. Continuing north from the bridge, the trail slightly ascends into a heavily wooded and quiet area along the banks of the Whitefish River. How to Get There: From U.S. Highway 93, turn east on JP Road. The southern trailhead is located near the intersection with River Lakes Parkway. For the northern trailhead, turn east on East Eighth Street. Turn south on Park Avenue. Turn east on Voeman Road. Monegan Road is the first right. Look for the street lamps that mark the trail. Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup. Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox. Email
HELENA — Montana lawmakers said Monday they are uncertain whether they should come up with a backup plan should their crackdown on medical marijuana be struck down in the courts or rejected next year at the ballot box.The state’s tough new medical marijuana law is under attack by the industry both in the courts and with an initiative asking voters to reject the new law at the ballot box in 2012.A legislative interim committee decided Monday that it will continue to monitor both before making any plans to draft backup legislation in case the new law is struck down.Republican state Sen. Jason Priest of Red Lodge said there is too much uncertainty around the issue at the moment to draft firm plans. Priest said he thinks most, if not all, of the law will withstand the challenges.Priest pointed to a recent poll that found 62 percent of respondents favored the overhaul of the pot law adopted by the Legislature earlier this year. That followed news that opponents to the law had been able to collect enough signatures to place a referendum vote on the ballot.The medical marijuana law in the state started with voters who in 2004 approved an initiative that legalized medical marijuana. But even many supporters later agreed the law was too vague and permissive, although attempts to reach a compromise earlier this year at the Legislature failed — resulting in a crackdown opposed by the industry.A Helena judge has, meanwhile, agreed with the industry and blocked some parts of the new law while he continue to hear the legal challenge brought by the Montana Cannabis Industry Association.At the same time, the federal government has cracked down on a drug they still consider illegal despite state medical marijuana laws. U.S. Department of Justice prosecutors are even arguing in court that jurors should not be allowed to hear evidence about the state’s medical pot law as part of a defense in cases where operators are charged with federal crimes.State lawmakers said Monday that situation needs also to resolve itself before they could consider revisiting the issue again.The full session of the Legislature is not expected to convene again until 2013, which would be the first chance lawmakers have to revise their plans.Priest said he thinks there is plenty of time over the interim to begin drafting a backup plan should it become necessary. Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup. Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox. Email
Email Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup. Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox. WOODS BAY – Even if the weather wasn’t perfect, cars were lined along Montana Highway 35 in Woods Bay and patrons packed The Raven to support Kheri Bilal. The popular bartender at The Raven and the Whistling Andy Distillery was critically injured after a fall in Mexico and is now in a Phoenix, Ariz. hospital. Bilal, who was born in Zanzibar, has worked at The Raven for the last two years. In late May, he and his wife Valentina were in Mexico celebrating their first wedding anniversary when he fell off a balcony. According to Raven owner Lisa Cloutier, Bilal landed on his head and suffered various brain injuries and broke his arm and shoulder. Because he didn’t have travel insurance and was in a foreign country, medical bills quickly piled up. On Saturday, June 2, Bilal and his family were airlifted out of the country to Arizona. Although it is early, Cloutier said an MRI taken in Phoenix shows that Bilal may have escaped the incident with little brain damage, but only time will tell. On Wednesday, The Raven hosted a dinner, silent auction and concert to raise money for Bilal. The small, lakeside bar was packed and those out to support Bilal exchanged hugs and laughs. Even though he’s only been at The Raven for a few years, some say it feels longer. “Kheri has been in the community for what feels like forever,” said Sue Juhl of Woods Bay. “He’s just such a huge part of the community.” Juhl said Bilal has a way of connecting with people, regardless of their background. It was a common theme throughout the bar. “You could see his smile across the lake,” said Maranda Johnson. Johnson, who lives in Bigfork, said Bilal has a playful personality and that the two would often argue over who had better fishing stories. Johnson wasn’t surprised that so many people turned out for the fundraiser. “It’s hard not do anything for such a good person,” she said. “It’s not going to be summer at The Raven without him.” Connie Cermak agreed. She said something would be missing this summer in Woods Bay, but she remained positive – just like Bilal always is. She recalled an incident a few weeks ago when she was at the bar and Bilal could tell something was wrong. She explained and then Bilal paused before giving a genuine response, one that Cermak said was perfect for that moment. “He pointed up and said ‘give it time.’” Those who would like to donate and help pay Bilal’s medical bills can go online to http://fnd.us/c/fJoW3, or make donations at The Raven, Papa’s Woods Bay Market or Whistling Andy Distillery. Donations can also be sent to Valentina Bilal at 14729 Shore Acres Drive, Bigfork, Montana 59911.
Email Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup. Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox. COLUMBIA FALLS – A large crowd gathered at the far end of the F. H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co. log yard on Aug. 23 to celebrate the dedication of Algae Aqua-Culture Technology, Inc.’s new Green Power House. The completion of the biorefinery is the result of four years of work by the Whitefish-based company. Officials with AACT said the Columbia Falls unit is the prototype of a complex system it hopes will become a new standard in energy production.“I hope to see Green Power Houses built around the world in the next five years,” said Chief Operating Officer Adam De Yong. “This can create a lot of solutions for a lot of communities around the world.”The eight-sided, three-story Green Power House is part greenhouse, part biorefinery and looks a little out of place next to Stoltze’s century-old sawmill. Inside the building, carbon dioxide, water and sunlight is combined to create energy-dense algae. The algae is then pumped into bioreactors where methane and hydrogen gases are extracted and the leftover algae is then used to make organic soil. According to AACT president Michael Smith, the company has spent more than a $1 million to get the entire project off the ground. Currently, the facility is run on propane, but eventually it will run on biomass from sawmills and forests, including burned and insect-damaged timber. That is why the new facility is located at Stoltze. De Yong said part of the Organic Carbon Engine is completed but the company needs approximately $750,000 to finish it. He said once the funding is secured, the engine could be finished in two to three months. Smith’s background is in physics and before taking on this project four years ago, he helped design video games. “It feels wonderful to be at this stage,” he said. “There were times when I thought we wouldn’t make it.” Now that the plant is up and running, it can constantly provide 250 kilowatts or six megawatts a day. That is enough energy to power 100 homes. De Yong envisions numerous markets for the technology, including selling the Green Power House as a kit to companies, especially those in forestry and agriculture. Another opportunity would be teaming up with communities to build the power house and use it to power entire neighborhoods. For more information about the project, visit www.algaeaqua.com.
Email WHITFISH – The new wayfinding signs plastered around Whitefish feature architectural and design elements meant to aid orientation while giving a nod to the town’s historic beginnings.The primary color of the rectangular signs, “Great Northern Green,” is outlined in “Park Brown” and overlaid against a rounded backing of Western Larch gold, while the shape of the signs are derived from an old directional sign that pointed motorists toward Highway 40.The signs show the way to destinations like City Beach, the train depot, the Whitefish Trail, Stumptown Ice Den, Whitefish Mountain Resort, and other prominent hallmarks ringing the city center.“They are geared for people who come to town and might want to know how to find the high school for an athletic event or go to a show at the O’Shaughnessy,” Whitefish City Manager Chuck Stearns said. “Matching the historic design and Great Northern colors was very important. You get visitors into the theme of the signs early on and then they are looking for the same color motif around town.”The wayfinding project also calls for a pair of gateway signs installed at either end of town and 47 directional signs that guide visitors toward public destinations.In downtown Whitefish, the signs complement the brighter green of the street posts to which they are affixed, and city staff will install five directories with maps.The Whitefish City Council approved the project after bidding it out for less than $150,000. The wayfinding project was funded with tax increment funds.The city hopes to have the signs installed by July 4. Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup. Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.
“Educational failures puts the United States’ future economic prosperity, global position and physical safety at risk.”So what is Common Core?Common Core is an education initiative that seeks to align curricula and standards across the nation by creating an outline for grades K-12 of what children should learn to be ready for today’s colleges and careers. It creates a clear set of expectations for English language arts and mathematics for each grade, but does not dictate exact curriculum or lesson plans; school districts still choose reading material and other teaching models that supplement the Common Core standards. The new standards emphasize critical thinking and reading instead of test preparation. They do increase the exposure to informational texts, such as America history documents like Common Sense, and literary nonfiction, while keeping ties to literary fiction classics, such as Shakespeare.For decades, schools across the country have taught students different material at different ages and rates, and assessed the learning abilities’ through different standards. For example, a fifth grade student who moved from Oregon to Montana could arrive and take math classes that are either way above or below the student’s abilities.Starting in 2007, two nonpartisan organizations — the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers — began crafting new, higher standards that are consistent across the U.S. Teachers, administrators and education experts provided input that led to revisions during the process.“Common education standards are essential for producing the educated work force America needs to remain globally competitive. This voluntary state-led effort will help ensure that all students can receive the college- and career-ready, world-class education they deserve, no matter where they live,” Craig Barrett, the former CEO and chairman of the board for Intel Corporation, said in a statement supporting Common Core.Dawning of a New Era at Whitefish HighSchool officials are still ironing out how to pay the final bill, but Whitefish High School’s transformation is underway and entering its final stages. This year’s students and teachers will have to endure the nuisance of ongoing construction on campus, but they can also enjoy the benefits of renovation. The new Whitefish High School gymnasium.Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon Critics, like the seven community members who voiced their opposition at Bigfork’s Aug. 13 school board meeting, contend that standards-based grading is ineffective and stymies students’ motivation to reach for well-known accomplishments like straight A’s.Bigfork’s elementary school has incorporated aspects of standards-based grading, and Jensen told board members the transition has been smooth.Kalispell Middle School began incorporating standards-based grading five years ago for some classes in kindergarten through fifth grade. Last year the entire school transitioned.“Students are graded on what they know and what they’ve learned, and how well they do after they’re taught specific skills and standards,” second-year principal Tryg Johnson said. “(The transition) went well. We’re pretty excited about it.”Bigfork’s school board of trustees will review Jensen’s proposal at its meeting on Sept. 18 and asked that further information about standards-based grading be presented, including a sample report card.Kalispell’s Expanded Classrooms Fill up ImmediatelyNot a moment too soon, the eight new classrooms in Peterson and Edgerton elementary schools are fully constructed and ready for a fresh batch of kindergarteners. Kalispell School District has led the nutritious transformation under the guidance of food service director Jennifer Montague. In 2011, Montague began revamping the cafeteria with healthier homemade options, including Montana beef and locally grown vegetables. Along with serving meals during summer, the district provides nutritious breakfasts and lunches to more than 4,500 students in 11 schools, five days a week during the school year, and those numbers have continued to grow the past two years, according to the district.Bigfork Considers Replacing Letter Grades with Standards-Based GradingJunior high students in Bigfork might not have to stress over getting straight A’s in the future.Matt Jensen, the principal at both the elementary and middle school in Bigfork, is proposing an overhaul of the grading system for sixth through eighth graders that would eliminate the age-old letter grades and replace them with more in-depth proficiency assessments in reading and math classes.Standards-based grading is a system that has gained traction over the last three decades as a new model for student development and evaluation. Instead of the traditional grading scale of A through F, standards-based grading measures students’ overall understanding of the subject materials through a numerical system that adds up to separate classifications, such as “novice” and “advanced proficient.” ‘Advocates of the new system tout its ability to track measurable progress and better determine a student’s understanding of school material rather than relying largely on test-taking abilities. When the school year begins Aug. 28, Kalispell will have its largest collection of kindergarteners ever in the district, according to administrators. More than 360 youngsters are enrolled in their first full year of schooling. This is the third year in a row that kindergarten enrollment has been around 360 in Kalispell, and the large number surpassed even administrators’ predictions. Just last week, Hedges Elementary added another kindergarten class in response to the high number of students entering the district.Kalispell’s five elementary schools have swelled in the past three years, primarily in the younger grades. The flood of students sparked overcrowding concerns among teachers and administrators, and even led to several classrooms expanding beyond state class-size accreditation standards. Last fall the school district proposed a 10-year, $3.35 million bond seeking to alleviate overcrowding at the K-2 levels, and voters approved the request.The bond has led to expansions at Peterson and Edgerton and five additional staff members. A third component of the bond, a brand new central kitchen for the district, is about to break ground and should be completed by June, according to district administrators. First-grade teacher Rachael Munday, left, organizes letter of the alphabet with help from her 3-year-old son Brooks in one of the four new classrooms at Peterson Elementary School in Kalispell. – Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon Edgerton Elementary, located off Whitefish Stage Road on the north side of Kalispell, has four new classrooms and restrooms.Peterson Elementary, located on Second Street West and South Meridian Road, has four new classrooms, a multipurpose area, three restrooms and a serving kitchen.“Our new additions look great,” Principal Rick Anfenson said. “We’ve really reduced our class sizes. And with the new additions, we’ve been able to return neighborhood kids to their neighborhood school.”What is Common Core and Why is it Controversial?It’s been described by some as the most significant education reform in generations and a critical step if American students hope to keep up with their global peers. It’s also been demonized and blasted by others as a government agenda that would minimize individual achievement with uniform goals and wreak havoc on the nation’s classrooms.Since debuting in 2010, Common Core has evolved from a new set of national learning standards for math and reading into a politicized — if not misunderstood — lightning rod. Montana is one of 45 states to adopt the initiative and schools across the state are in the process of implementing the changes this year. Kalispell School District is ahead of the curve, and local classrooms began undergoing the Common Core conversion a year ago.In April, the Republican National Committee denounced Common Core as a “one-size fits all” plan that “fits the country with a nationwide straitjacket on academic freedom and achievement.” The RNC encouraged states to reject the curricular standards that are supported by the Obama administration. A funding proposal was shot down in the 2013 Montana Legislature that would have helped schools pay for the implementation of Common Core material.Yet advocates say reform is desperately needed in the nation’s public school system, and that more myths than facts have surrounded the heated debate and turned it into a political scuffle.Compared to students in 27 industrialized countries, American students rank 25th in math and 14th in reading comprehension, according to the Broad Foundation, an educational reform organization.“The United States’ failure to educate its students leaves them unprepared to compete and threatens the country’s ability to thrive in a global economy,” an independent task force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Affairs wrote in its report on U.S. education reform and national security. The gymnasium has been entirely remodeled with a new basketball court and expandable bleachers and crews are finishing the locker rooms and a new athletic training facility and weight room, which are being funded by a recent donation of more than $1 million from the Iron Horse Foundation. After that, construction will enter the final phase of redeveloping the high school, which remains on track to be completed by August 2014. Back to School One Last TimeLast week, on the eve of a new school year, Darlene Schottle gathered together the 42 teachers entering Kalispell’s classrooms for the first time this fall. As her tradition goes, the district’s superintendent welcomed the latest group by offering words of affirmation and guidance, remembering the blend of nervousness and excitement that sets in before each new year. Some were experienced teachers transferring into the largest school district in Northwest Montana, encompassing 6,000 students spread across nine schools; others were bright-eyed and about to begin their careers as educators. “It is quite honestly one of the most exciting times to be entering the education world,” Schottle told them. They discussed new ways to connect with kids and encourage academic achievement, including ever-evolving technology and expanded classrooms. They prepared for the constant challenges, including many that intertwine with the community, like homeless teenagers. They renewed their pledge, which Schottle echoes as a rallying cry to the valley’s residents and businesses, to celebrate learning and encourage all young people to be successful and embrace high aspirations.She saw the contagious energy and enthusiasm among the teachers, and later said it filled her with excitement and happiness. There was a part of her that wished she were just starting her career, rather than approaching its end.The Schottles were a tight-knit migrant family. The father was a mechanic and moved around British Columbia wherever he could find work. Before she was 18, Darlene attended 13 different schools. Her mother had a sixth-grade education; her father an eighth-grade. No one in their family, including cousins, had graduated high school. Yet Darlene’s parents emphasized to their young daughter the importance of schooling.“They just valued the fact that if I went to school I’d have the opportunity to do something more,” she said. “To me it was the Canadian dream and the American dream. If I wanted to have my own house and be able to buy a new car, I had to have an education.”Schottle became intent on attending college despite the challenges in front of her. Beside her family’s sparse education background, Schottle lived in a culture at that time — the 60s and early 70s — that rarely saw women pursuing higher education. “Most of the people in the communities I lived in, the women rarely worked. They were stay-at-home moms,” she said. “There was a little bit of that, ‘ Why do you want to do something like that for?’”She received scholarships that allowed her to attend the University of British Columbia, where she trained to be a teacher. Over the following decades, she would serve as an educator for 14 years and earn multiple degrees, including a doctorate, which allowed her to move to the U.S. and eventually become the top school administrator in a major district near Reno, Nev. It was then and there, after leading the creation of three new high schools, that she would be hired to tackle a similar situation in the rapidly growing Flathead Valley, home to the largest high school in Montana and a jigsaw puzzle of elementary and junior high schools.Eleven years later, Schottle is entering her final school year as superintendent of Kalispell School District 5. She announced her decision to retire to the board of trustees in the spring. The search for a replacement launches this week, with trustees deciding whether to establish a separate search committee or handle the effort as a board.In an interview last week, Schottle, 61, reflected on her tenure and the noticeable transformation within the city’s school district, while also discussing the constant challenges and issues facing schools and teachers. Kalispell public schools have seen improvements in graduation rates in recent years and reached an 83 percent graduation rate in 2012, nearly 10 percent above the national average. Eight new classrooms have been recently built in the district in response to another year of record enrollment of kindergarten students. The district’s overall enrollment is up 1,000 students since 2003.Another urgent priority to recently surface is the influx of homeless teens and the district has hired a coordinator to facilitate resources for those in need. Kalispell has begun serving an increasing amount of free meals to teens, and Ronda Stevens is now in charge of helping teenagers who are without a permanent, safe residence.“In reality, one of the best places to coordinate those efforts is through a school,” Schottle said. “I think it’s the right thing to do for children.”Maintaining Flathead High’s building over the long-term is another priority.“I think at some point we’ll have to do something with the gym and the surrounding area and those are challenges that we’ll have to address,” she said. “But I really think it should be built upon.” Schottle’s legacy will most likely be tied to one of the most significant — and tumultuous — chapters in Kalispell’s history: the creation of Glacier High. When she arrived in the summer of 2003, the community had come to terms with the fact that something needed to be done in the school district. Within a year, Schottle had spearheaded a plan that would overhaul the district’s configuration with a new high school and redevelopment of what was then Kalispell Junior High. In 2004, voters approved a $39.8 million bond to build Glacier. In 2007, the 229,000-square foot building opened. Today Flathead High enrollment is roughly 1,450 and Glacier’s is 1,200, according to the school district. Six years later, some tensions still exist between the two schools.“I did not know the amount of commitment the community would have to its high school, and the growing pains that it would go through creating two out of one,” Schottle said. “But that passion is also what makes it wonderful.”When asked if she would do anything different, Schottle said she would better explain the district’s reasoning behind its decisions through community meetings and listening sessions.“I think that we have staff at both schools who are very passionate about their own schools,” she said. “I like the fact that they’re developing a little bit of their own personalities as far as academically. They’re similar but they’re not the same, and I think that’s very important as you develop a culture for a school.”Nicosia Gives Back to Columbia Falls in Final Year“I always get excited this time of year. I look so forward to seeing our kids coming back to school,” said Mike Nicosia.For the last 19 years, the superintendent of both the high school and elementary school district has watched burgeoning students stream the halls and fill the classrooms in Columbia Falls. But this fall holds a special significance for Nicosia. The second longest serving superintendent in Montana is entering his final year before officially retiring in June. He announced his decision to the board of trustees in April. But in a surprising twist, he proposed a generous deal that would extend his tenure by one final year and save the district a significant amount of money. Nicosia is working this school year for less than one third of his salary, or roughly $31,000. “This community and these schools have been absolutely wonderful to myself and my family for 18 years,” Nicosia said. “This is my family’s way of paying back our little debt of gratitude.”Nicosia’s gesture is more than kind; it’s rather necessary in a time of financial turmoil. Email Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup. Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox. For the fourth year in a row, the high school district’s budget is less than it was a year prior. Since 2010, the high school budget has dropped $422,000, according to Nicosia. The elementary district’s budget has shrunk each of the last three years, for a total of $300,000 since 2011. The school board approved the latest fiscal budgets on Aug. 13, and Nicosia reported a net deficit of $428,093 between the two districts.Nicosia estimated that 30 staff positions have been lost over the last three years in Columbia Falls.“We’re at the point now where there isn’t much left to cut,” he said. “We’ve been doing that for years. When your budget doesn’t go up, your costs still go up.”The troubling situation is nothing new for Columbia Falls, or other small communities across Montana that are struggling with declining enrollment and a funding mechanism largely weighted on school sizes.Columbia Falls’ high school enrollment plummeted from 945 in 1997 to 692 last fall, a 27 percent decrease. The elementary district shrunk to Ruder and Glacier Gateway schools in 2011 after Canyon Elementary was closed, the result of enrollment diving from 230 students in 1997 to 75.Whitefish has experienced similar changes, with elementary enrollment dropping 8 percent and high school enrollment shrinking 29 percent in the last decade. Bigfork’s high school enrollment has dropped off 27 percent, while the elementary numbers have turned around in recent years to equal a 9 percent rise.In contrast, Kalispell has enjoyed a 19 percent rise in elementary numbers and 14 percent in high school since 2003. Kalispell’s entire district has increased by roughly 1,000 students in the past decade, according to administrators. More than a decade ago, Nicosia spearheaded an effort to change the way schools are funded through the state. The idea was to increase funding for struggling school districts and it evolved into a collection of schools that sued the state of Montana in September 2002. The lawsuit, titled Columbia Falls vs. the State of Montana, claimed that budget reductions were leading to significant program and teacher cuts and creating “a crisis” in many of Montana’s schools. The state district court ruled in favor of Columbia Falls in 2004, and the state Supreme Court affirmed the decision a year later.Yet nearly 10 years later, Nicosia sees the same struggles and problems persisting for Montana’s smaller schools. “As far as the school financing and changing things, I fought that fight. We won the lawsuit, but it really didn’t change much,” he said. Despite the perpetual challenges, Nicosia keeps an optimistic tone and will carry it through his final school year. The community does appear to be growing, albeit slowly, and enrollment in Columbia Falls’ schools appears to be holding steady this fall, he said. The high school is expected to be slightly higher than last year, with roughly 710 students.“I’m really dedicated to having the best year we can,” he said, “and then sitting back and doing anything I can for our community and our school districts on a volunteer basis.”Healthy MealsMontana is one of six states whose school lunch programs have completely, or almost completely, implemented healthier national school lunch guidelines created in an effort to reduce childhood obesity, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced last week.