Trego School Adopted New Salary Schedule

The Trego School board adopted a new salary schedule during the meeting on Wednesday, January twelfth. The new salary schedule will be applicable starting in the fall of the upcoming school year.

The schedule is split into three sections, by number of teaching endorsements.

Single Endorsement
Experience yrs$33,920$34,598$35,290$35,996$36,716
Dual Endorsement
Experience yrs$37,450$38,387$39,346$40,330$41,338
Third Endorsement
Experience yrs$42,372$43,643$44,734$45,852$46,999

Trego’s Salary Schedule is unusual in a few ways. While most salary schedules increase with the number of years of teaching experience, few consider the number of teaching endorsements. Though some offer fixed bonuses for coaching.

A teaching endorsement is granted by Montana’s Office of Public Instruction. These can include K-8 endorsements, which allow the teacher to teach any subject to students from kindergarten to 8th grade, as well as music and art. High school teachers are typically licensed for their specific subject areas -in my case, a Broadfield Science license allows me to teach science for grades 5-12. Special Education, Counseling, and Administrative Endorsements can also be found in public schools.

For comparison, Eureka’s Salary Schedule can be found on their website.

In comparison, this salary schedule has far more years of teaching experience included, and considers twenty further credits beyond a master’s degree.

The base salary for a teacher fresh out of school, without any credits past a bachelors degree would be slightly lower in Eureka, except that the district starts new teachers at step three on the schedule. Trego’s schedule is similar, but adding endorsements (this varies in difficulty, but typically involves some coursework and passing a praxis test) provides teachers with the more significant pay increase than additional coursework does alone.


Phone Centric Identity

Well, I’ve rejoined the modern world. Which is to say that I finally replaced the cell phone that only works (sometimes) when plugged into an outlet. In some ways, a fairly easy process (removing simcards is far simpler than the unfamiliar might expect, but requires fine motor skills and reasonably good eyesight). In others, it was an excellent demonstration on just how dependent we are on the darned things.

You need a cell phone to activate a cell phone. Two factor authentication: When did I decide that was a good idea. When doing the initial setup, I was prompted to login to my account. Username? Check. Password? Check. Text Message Confirmation? Shoot.

No, I couldn’t get text messages on the phone I was setting up, while setting it up. No, I wasn’t near my computer to respond to a confirmation email (fool that I was, I’d been relying on the phone to check the email as well!). Once I (finally) logged in, all of the subsequent accounts proceeded in much the same way.

Suffice to say, it was an interesting experience, and really drove home the point that we are extraordinarily reliant upon cell phones to prove our identity. Is this really you? Type in this code within ten minutes.

It turns out this has a lot to do with mobile identity software. Essentially, your cell phone is used as a proxy to determine if you are a real person (and the person you say you are). Mobile phones have a number of advantages. The ability to take pictures means that they can be used for facial recognition (take a selfie with your government issued ID), or to recognize your fingerprints.

The major reason for using the two-factor identification is fraud prevention. Essentially username/password combinations are, as a rule, not particularly secure. You have a whole identity associated with your phone. The time you’ve had the number, the calls, the contacts, the places you’ve made those calls from. A huge amount of records that prove you are a real person, living within an approximate area: Your “Phone Centric Identity“.

This neatly explains why your cell phone can become so important to figuring out who you are- but doesn’t do a whole lot for helping you if you don’t have one (or have access to yours).


Red Cross Blood Shortage

The Red Cross has declared a blood shortage– the number of people donating has dropped 10% since covid began. The majority of blood drives are college campus associated, so covid has led to a decrease there as well, especially with recent cancellations due to an increase in the omicron variant. This combines with a typical seasonal decline as travel becomes more difficult during the winter months.

The Red Cross is responsible for 40% of the blood supply, and with the shortage, hasn’t been able to meet the needs of hospitals requesting blood.

Blood, like the majority of human tissues, can’t be fabricated in the laboratory. The only source of blood for people that need transfusions is blood from donors. While researchers are looking into ways to grow organs, and artificial skin has been approved by the FDA, the vast majority of human tissue comes from donors. Either organ donors, or grafts from elsewhere in the patient’s body.

The Red Cross is requesting both donations (blood and platelets) and volunteers to help with organizing and operating blood drives. They are currently automatically entering anyone who donates into a drawing for $500 gift card.

All blood types are needed, especially types O- and O+. People are still eligible to donate if they have had the covid vaccine, though they’ll need to know which vaccine they received. More about eligibility requirements can be found here.


My Privilege

Yesterday, the ophthalmologist shared the news that I have the beginnings of macular degeneration.  My first response was a stab of fear – macular degeneration took Dad’s sight, so I have some familiarity with what it can do.  The second response was the same as I had for colon cancer – I’ll get home, pull out the statistics, and figure out where I am.  The third response was a sense of gratitude. 

Gratitude.  I was in the 7th grade when I wound up with glasses – Dr. Yamamoto explained my vision was better than 20-15, not quite 20-10.  20-10 means that what the hypothetical normal person could distinguish at 10 feet, I could see at 20.  From age 12 on, I wore glasses to achieve better than normal vision.  My reading speed went to 800 words per minute, then 1,300.  Normal reading speed is around 300 wpm.  Tests are much easier for fast readers – particularly multiple choice tests.  The astigmatism that showed up in my undergrad years took a couple of years before it stabilized and the optometrist could prescribe the right correction – but gratitude is the best word I have.  In the academy, the fast readers have the real privilege.  The glasses kept me using iron sights through my 50’s.

Between 45 and 50, I went through the challenges of bifocals – finally listening to an optometrist explain that most people got them 5 or 10 years earlier.  The message I internalized was “Quit sniveling.”  He wasn’t rude enough to put it that way – but I had nearly 40 years of corrected vision that was well above average, during my working years.  It has finally dropped to the bottom edge of 20-20 at 72.  Gratitude for the privilege.  In my late 50’s I wound up with a blepharoplasty – sagging eyelids had taken part of my field of vision.  A morning’s surgery on the upper eyelids and the field of vision was back.

My physician sent me to the ophthalmologist to be tested for diabetic retinopathy.  The good news was that there’s no sign of that.  The bad news was the beginnings of macular degeneration.  Those two words brought the half-minute of fear – it was macular degeneration that brought blindness to my father.  But the bright side is that, at 72, his shooting and reading was behind him (and his driving should have been).  I still have 20-20 vision at 72 (though it scares me to realize I share the road with folks who have 20-40). 

Dad got his cataract surgery after macular degeneration had done its worst.  I’m scheduling mine soon, to get the most out of it.  I’m hoping for a recovery that brings back the ability to focus on the front sight of the 1903A3 rifle – and if I don’t get it, there are better scopes available than I added for Dad.

The percentages for macular degeneration don’t seem to be as easy to extrapolate as they were for colon cancer.  With colon cancer, I had the oncologist’s prediction of survival to 2012 – but I am better at stats than he.  My calculations obviously were also better – in June, I’m 10 years past his designated life expectancy.

So what data is available on macular degeneration?  I’ll be doing a couple months research on the topic to find out what to expect.  I’ve had a lifetime of outstanding vision because of corrective lenses.  I’m grateful the diagnosis came at 72 – and it’s just the first caution sign on the road.

Community, A Science for Everyone

Why Frost Heaves

Frost heaves – back when I was teaching engineering uses of soils 40 years ago – were explained by osmosis, compression and fine-grained soil.  So think clay, or even better, glacial silt as your fine-grained soil.  For compression, remember that just ten or fifteen thousand years back there were some thick glaciers on top of our soil.  For osmosis, think of the difference between rain water, or snow melt, and the groundwater with it’s calcium salts under my field.  And glacial silts tend to have a lot of exchangeable ions.

The textbook phrase was “If a fine-grained soil, especially a clay, has been compressed, it will normally take in water upon reduction in compressive loading.  In many cases this intake of water may be attributed to osmosis.  The pore water already in the soil is assumed to move into regions of higher concentration between the particles.  More water is drawn into the soil in this process and gradually the water content of the mass as well as the soil volume are significantly increased. . . It has been observed that under certain conditions, when the ground freezes, the surface of the ground rises.  This is termed frost heaving.  Calculations show that in many cases the amount of heave is far more than can be accounted for by the expansion of water on freezing.  It is therefore assumed that additional water must be drawn into the freezing zone.” p.84, Hough, Basic Soils Engineering 1967

In areas that lack our fine-grained soils, frost heaves aren’t so obvious.  On our roads, the places that once had extreme frost heaves – I remember a particularly bad one that was in front of the Apeland ranch on 93 – were over excavated and the fine materials replaced with sand and gravel – so that osmosis could not occur. 


The Old British Currency

As a kid, I read quite a few books that had British authors.  Most of the time, I understood what they had written.  Fortnights gave me a bit of a problem – but I figured out that meant two weeks.  Furlongs weren’t much of a problem – an eighth of a mile is 220 yards on either side of the Atlantic – but their currency was downright confusing.  About 50 years back, they went over to 100 pence equaling a pound – but the old books still contain the confusing old system. I picked up this explanation from Glen Filthy – an Alberta blogger –


Nearby School Rankings

I’ve worked in a system where school rankings were always in the background – in my world, MIT and Cal Tech were always at the top, then the Ivys, moving down to a sub-Ivy League bunch that rated above my land grants, and then lower tiered schools ending at community and junior colleges. 

Spending a bit of time on the school board has me watching the next level – high schools.  I’m patiently waiting to see how the ACT scores place our local schools – but until that data is released, other scores exist.

US News rates high schools – I was familiar with their college rankings (there is something humbling about working with a couple that are recognized above the place that employs you).  So I checked their website to see where Lincoln County High School ranked.

“Lincoln County High School is ranked 63-85th within Montana. The total minority enrollment is 14%, and 54% of students are economically disadvantaged.”

US News

Whitefish was #2.  Glacier was #12.  Flathead #16.  Libby #33.  Columbia Falls #37.  Thompson Falls #48.  LCHS tied with Troy – between 63 and 85, at the bottom of the ranked high schools.

Niche also ranks LCHS.  The numbers require a bit of thinking – how can the state champions score 90th in the state in the category “best high school for athletes in Montana”?  (I think I’ve figured it out, but my hypothesis needs more data – while boys athletic participation is rated average, girls participation is rated at very low)  One of the upbeat rankings was the faculty – number 34 in the state, with an A- rating on the school’s report card.  On the other hand, academics are rated at C+ . . . a bit hard to reconcile with a teaching staff that is rated at A-.  Administration was rated at B, and food at B+ (hard for me to understand, but back when I went to school Mrs. Grace Cuffe ran the kitchen).

They did point out that “In Eureka there are a lot of bars.”  I suspect the reviewers didn’t understand the cultural aspects that accompany the nickname “Tijuana del norte.”  Ah, well, one day soon we can expect to see the ratings based on ACT results.

I’ll be glad when we can see ratings for Trego – 3 years ago, when I got on the board, we were down to 4 or 5 students.  Now we’re right around 30 students in 8 grades, and getting close to a spot where there are enough students in a class that scores can stay confidential. 


Life Off the Grid

When I returned to Trego, an old friend suggested that I look at building off-grid, with the comment “Lincoln Electric isn’t a co-op anymore, it’s just another power company.”  In a way, he was correct – cooperatives rarely last beyond a couple generations before becoming bureaucracies run with more attention to the employees wants than the members.  To me, that wasn’t as important as the fact that the infrastructure of Lincoln Electric is all around me.  The presence of the infrastructure is of greater value.

Still, my community can be divided between folks who are on the grid and those who are not.  The decision to be on grid is fairly easy for me – 160 acres, and the most distant spot from a power line is ¼ mile.  That’s a different calculation than someone who is two miles or more from the line.  Real estate folks stress “Location, location, location” and they are correct.  Location can be a creek.  It can be a view.  Or it can be proximity to the infrastructure – in town, water comes through the meter, cell phone service exists, and the power lines are even closer than mine.  The decisions are simpler.

As I write this, I’m thinking about a fire up Edna.  My guess is that his tax bill includes the same $50 for the TFS fire department that mine does . . . but my fire protection is within a half-mile.  My phone line hooks through Interbel.  I have a six or seven mile advantage in emergency service, and it’s a phone call away.  We have different levels of challenges in land ownership.  The first – totally on-grid and in-town – is cash oriented.  A monthly check buys the needed services.  Still, it can be exclusionary in case of disability, job loss, or poverty.  It’s polar opposite is off-grid on the mountainside.  All the needed elements are brought in regularly by the land owner – and I recall an old rancher a half-century ago who described it as “When me and the bank had the ranch down in . . .” 

Off-grid isn’t for the weak – and I probably lost 30% of my physical ability in surviving colon cancer.  I still think it was a fair exchange to continue living.  My neighbors off grid have to be in better shape – if nothing else, they have to keep the 4×4 running to bring in the necessities.  Broken ribs or a leg in a cast are a greater problem.  At forty, most of them could handle the effort of being off-grid easily.  At 70, or 80, the margin isn’t there.

The Economic Research Service has the classifications: “The 2015 County Typology Codes classify all U.S. counties according to six mutually exclusive categories of economic dependence and six overlapping categories of policy-relevant themes. The economic dependence types include farming, mining, manufacturing, Federal/State government, recreation, and nonspecialized counties. The policy-relevant types include low education, low employment, persistent poverty, persistent child poverty, population loss, and retirement destination.”  We fit in a couple – we’re recreation, government dependent, low employment and retirement destination. 

Those types do not fit well together.  The recreation dependence raises land values beyond their productivity – as does retirement destination.  Government dependent and low employment translates to having a lot of government jobs and a lot of unemployed.  I’ve looked at recreation dependent and retirement destination counties on paper – basically the real estate prices increase, and affordable housing diminishes.  Add in the low employment, and affordable housing gets hit harder.

Living off-grid has made the hit less obvious here than in many recreation-dependent counties.  In the south end of the county, corporate timberlands have been the norm.  Here, in the north end of Lincoln County, more remote areas, unserved by the electric co-op, have provided the alternative.  Still, living off-grid requires more individual effort –  the body declines.  Tasks that were easy at 40 become challenging at 60 or 70.  The margin narrows with each passing year.

Back in the late 90’s, I knew an old guy who had built his place down the Kootenai from Libby while he worked at the sawmill.  He asked me to review his situation in case his math was wrong.  It wasn’t.  As he reached his mid-eighties, his retirement COLAs hadn’t kept up with the increased taxes and insurance on the beautiful spot he had built in his spare time.  I couldn’t argue with the economics of his decision – sell the recreation spot on the river and move to Chester, Montana.  I agreed, the people in Chester have always been nice when I stopped there.  There are some nice places offered at low prices in population loss counties.  Still, it seems an awful thing to see people pressed to leave their communities by disabilities and rising prices.


So, How Bad Are the Roads, Anyway?

With snow and ice season well and truly upon us, it seems like the first thought to mind when considering travel is the state of the roads. Good? Bad? Clear? Icy?

An inquiring mind has a few options.

  • Facebook: There are Facebook groups dedicated solely to road reports, and if the timing is right, one can find a post by someone who just traveled the same path.
  • The Travel Info Map: has nice, color coded details for the entire state. Covers major highways.
  • Web Cameras: These are useful for a look outdoors without actually having to look out doors. I often check the Dickey Lake Camera from the Travel Info Map, although Eureka has its own and there are several down in the Flathead.

There isn’t a really good source, other than people who’ve been out and about, for roads like Ant Flat and Fortine Creek Road. They just aren’t big enough to make it onto the Travel Info Map. Some good internet research (and some luck) can tell you all about the roads in Eureka, the trip down towards Whitefish, and the condition of the roads within Whitefish and Kalispell. The usual sources aren’t as much good for the (very) local roads.

That said, it’s often my experience that the first few miles after leaving home are the worst for driving.