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Five Ideas

What people should be talking about
Sunday, May 27, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:15 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

[1] New School Boundaries

Columbia Public Schools wants you.

The district is looking for seven or nine volunteers who can handle the stress associated with a potentially controversial issue: drawing up the boundaries for two new schools.

In April voters approved the sale of a $60 million bond issue, which would pay for a new high school and a new junior high school.

The district wants people who understand the needs of Columbia parents and who have different viewpoints on issues such as diversity, population and geography.

Creating a socioeconomic balance among students is one of the most important factors the committee must consider when making its decisions. The principal of a Columbia elementary school whose boundaries were changed a few years ago said that each school in the district should serve a diverse body of students. The committee will meet with parents and hold public meetings to gather the thoughts and opinions of the community.

What part of Columbia do you think needs schools? How should the new boundaries be set?

[2] Downtown Face-lift

City officials acknowledge that creating a new look for the southern half of downtown is not an easy task.

The city hired the Boston-based urban development firm Sasaki Associates to help expand and renovate the limited space. At a meeting last week, experts and community members met to discuss how the city would solve the financial and logistical issues raised by Sasaki’s proposal, which includes a 200-room hotel and convention center and a new museum for the Missouri State Historical Society.

The city hopes to attract private investors who will spur development by offering state, county and local financial subsidies.

Assistant City Manager Tony St. Romain said that the city is no longer thinking about whether to construct a better downtown, but rather moving ahead with how to do it.

What would you like to see built in the southern part of downtown Columbia?

[3] Highly Charged

Electricity bills for 1.2 million Missourians are on the rise after Ameren Corp. was granted a $43 million annual rate increase.

Yet Ameren spokesmen said they were disappointed with the increase, granted by the Missouri Public Service Commission. The company’s original request was $361 million.

The lower rate increase approved by commissioners was a message to the utility giant that it needs to improve its performance. Last year, customers complained about power outages after storms damaged Ameren’s plants. The company was also criticized for the rupture of the Taum Sauk reservoir.

The commission said Ameren needs to spend more on its communications and customer service. The Missouri attorney general appealed the rate increase and called for a cut instead.

Ameren received its last rate increase in 1987. The new rate will add about $2.40 to the average Ameren customer’s bill, which currently hovers around $70 per month.

Does Ameren deserve a rate increase? Why or why not?

[4] Fees for Immigrants

The Senate took up a bill last week that would allow millions of immigrant workers the right to automatic legal status.

Unions oppose the proposed guest workers program, saying it could create a class of underpaid workers who would threaten the jobs of American workers.

President Bush has defended the bill. He said rooting out and deporting millions of illegal immigrants is an unreasonable goal.

Senators opposing the bill have introduced amendments that have all been defeated.

The Senate on Wednesday did vote to slash the number of immigrants who would be granted temporary worker status under the bill from a minimum of 400,000 to 200,000.

The reforms would require temporary workers to pay $5,000 in fines and more for taxes and fees, a cost that some opponents of the bill regard as too high. They fear those costs would make underpaid workers who have little credit or assets vulnerable to disreputable creditors.

How would Columbia benefit or suffer from the passage of this bill?

[5] Virtual Protest

Opponents of the Iraq War were planning to be among the many spectators at this weekend’s Salute to Veterans Air Show at Columbia Regional Airport.

A lawyer representing the event’s organizers said last week that he plans to appeal a court ruling that upheld the right to protest at the show.

In 2004, the American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit against the organizers and the city of Columbia on behalf of two protesters who were asked to leave by police for passing out leaflets and circulating petitions.

The courts sided with the protesters, ruling that their actions were protected by the U.S. Constitution.

One of the protestor’s targets this year was expected to be a Virtual Army Experience video exhibit that pits teams of players against terrorists.

In previous years, the protestors faced counterprotestors offering visitors the use of battery-powered shredders to get rid of unwanted anti-war leaflets.

How does the presence of anti-war protesters at the air show disrupt the show for others?


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