Schools and roads in your community need looking after

By Al Cross

If your schools are laying off teachers, or if your county is letting some paved roads revert to gravel, they are part of a national trend. We wrote about both of them recently on The Rural Blog, the daily digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, published by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues. We also looked at other education issues, shaky rural bridges, shrinking volunteer fire departments and a lot more.

Schools could be facing “the most extensive layoffs if their teaching staffs in decades,” Sam Dillon of The New York Times reported, saying it had created a division “between politicians and union leaders over the seniority-based layoff methods stipulated in union contracts.” We think the division also exists in non-unionized school districts, between teachers who have gained tenure and those who have not. It could be an important issue for your community. Our blog item is at irjci.blogspot.com/2011/03/many-teacher-layoffs-are-on-horizon.html.

Other education items noted a report from Education Week that tea party candidates are winning school board elections (irjci.blogspot.com/2011/04/tea-party-seeing-success-in-school.html) and a Stateline.org story about budget troubles for community colleges, which often have a hybrid state-local nature and fall between coverage cracks. That item is at irjci.blogspot.com/2011/04/community-college-funding-takes-hit-as.html.

The blacktop-to-gravel phenomenon started a few years ago, but seems to have accelerated as the recession squeezed government budgets. Pam Louwagie of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune looked at states in the upper Midwest, but we’ll bet the phenomenon exists elsewhere. Our item is at irjci.blogspot.com/2011/03/cash-poor-states-localities-let-roads.html.

Also on the road front, our friends at the Daily Yonder picked up on a report that 11 percent of U.S. bridges are structurally deficient, and almost two-thirds of them are in rural counties. Our item, with a county-by-county map, is at irjci.blogspot.com/2011/04/rural-bridges-and-repair-budget-are.html.

While on a trip to Oregon, we saw a story in The Oregonian reporting that the number of volunteer firefighters in the U.S. has dropped 12 percent in the last five years. Reasons include stricter training rules, more rural residents working in other towns, and fewer people willing and able to do the physical labor of firefighting. This sounds like a story for countless rural communities. See irjci.blogspot.com/2011/04/number-of-volunteer-firefighters-drops.html.

Other story ideas

• EPA boss says it won’t regulate farm runoff in Mississippi watershed if voluntary measures work. Soil erosion was the first rural environmental issue, starting in the Dust Bowl days. http://irjci.blogspot.com/2011/04/epa-responds-favorably-to-voluntary.html.

• Unusual public radio station in Appalachia worries about federal funding, a third of its total.http://irjci.blogspot.com/2011/04/unusual-public-radio-station-in.html.

• Threatened end of Corporation for Public Broadcasting endangers rural community radio.http://irjci.blogspot.com/2011/03/cpb-guillotine-endangers-community.html. From Marcie Crim’s op-ed piece.

• Times columnist Tim Egan writes about a rural public station in eastern Idaho that does run NPR programming and is managed by a conservative who finds it largely balanced. For the piece on Pocatello’s KISU-FM, click here.

• Four in 10 say they want to live in a rural area or small town, but what about commuting?http://irjci.blogspot.com/2011/04/four-in-10-americans-say-they-want-to.html.

• What is attractive or not attractive about your community?

• Small, rural cemeteries may fade away with their aging caretakers. http://irjci.blogspot.com/2011/04/small-rural-cemeteries-may-fade-away.html

• A feature for almost any community: Legislation would combat rural veterinarian shortage by making loans tax-exempt. The latest in a series of stories about rural vets, mainly those who treat large animals.http://irjci.blogspot.com/2011/04/proposed-legislation-may-combat-rural.html.

• State and federal budget deficiencies threaten land-grant research programs extension offices.http://irjci.blogspot.com/2011/04/land-grant-research-programs-among.html.

• National parks making food suppliers buy local. http://irjci.blogspot.com/2011/04/national-parks-to-require-food.html.

• ‘Rural sourcing’ brings online jobs to small towns. http://irjci.blogspot.com/2011/04/rural-sourcing-brings-online-jobs-to.html.

• Gish Award winner says her investigation of sheriff was based largely on records requests.http://irjci.blogspot.com/2011/04/gish-award-winner-says-her.html.

• List of 407 closed post offices is released. http://irjci.blogspot.com/2011/03/list-of-407-closed-post-offices-is.html.

• Commission tells Postal Service to gauge impact on rural areas before ending Saturday delivery.http://irjci.blogspot.com/2011/03/commission-tells-postal-service-to.html.

• GAO says USPS could save big by ending Saturday mail but would hurt rural people and newspapers.http://irjci.blogspot.com/2011/03/gao-says-usps-could-save-big-by-ending.html.

l Interactive 2010 U.S. census map available. http://irjci.blogspot.com/2011/03/interactive-2010-us-census-map.html.

© Al Cross 2011

Al Cross edited and managed weekly newspapers before spending 26 years at The (Louisville) Courier-Journal and serving as president of the Society of Professional Journalists. Since 2004 he has been director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based at the University of Kentucky, with partners at 28 universities in 18 states. See www.RuralJournalism.org.

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