Five Ideas

Sunday, June 17, 2007 | 12:37 a.m. CDT; updated 11:12 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

[1] Bag baggage

Columbia’s garbage gurus are thinking seriously about changing the way residents get bags for their yard waste, refuse and recyclables. The existing delivery system, which involves chucking rolls and packages of bags into people’s yards and driveways from the back of a truck, is dangerous because the bags occasionally hit cars, mailboxes and lawn ornaments. And it’s expensive enough that the city could buy a new garbage truck every year if it eliminated the method.

A proposal being discussed involves mailing coupons to utility customers that could be redeemed for bags at local grocery stores. That would not only save the city money but also give people some flexibility to choose how many of which types of bags they want. It would also eliminate some of the liability concerns.

Some City Council members, however, wonder whether any change is necessary. Second Ward Councilman Chris Janku said the existing system is quite popular and convenient.

Would a coupon system for refuse bags be better or worse for you? Why?

[2] Tower angst

Residents of the Highlands are fuming over a decision by the Columbia Board of Adjustment to allow Sprint to build a 95-foot cell phone tower in their neighborhood. The tower will be disguised as a humongous flag pole, though there are no plans to fly a flag from it.

The Board of Adjustment approved two variances allowing the tower, which otherwise would have been limited to 30 feet. Highlands residents worry that the “visual pollution” will diminish their property values. They also complained about the “stealth” manner in which they were notified of Sprint’s plans. Although a notice was posted at the property, neighbors said it could not easily be seen from the street.

Sprint representatives argued that the tower is vital to the company’s effort to compete in the local market and that the site was the only suitable property. It expects to build the towers within the next two months. Residents’ only option is to appeal in circuit court.

How can we strike a balance between the desire for good cell phone reception and the proliferation of towers?

[3] ATTACK surge

Despite the surge in U.S. troops deployed to Iraq earlier this year, the country saw a slight rise in violence over a three-month period from February to May, according to a quarterly report on the war from the Pentagon. The report cited rising numbers of attacks in cities and provinces that previously had been relatively peaceful.

The military is pointing to decreased killing in Baghdad and the Al Anbar province — areas that have been the focus of the troop buildups. The report documents the flight of insurgent fighters from Baghdad into the Diyala province, where U.S. military officials have requested more troops.

The report frequently asserted that it is too early to draw any firm conclusions about the success or failure of the buildup. It also reflected the Pentagon’s growing frustration over the Iraqi government’s continued failure to use the troop surge as an opportunity to enact legislative reforms aimed at reconciliation.

Will the insurgents’ move to outlying provinces help or hurt the U.S. effort? Why?

[4] Virtual necessity

The Missouri Virtual Instruction Program is in need of teachers for the upcoming school year. The program, which allows children to take classes on the Internet, hopes to enroll between 2,500 and 3,000 students and is nearing that goal, but it’s behind on hiring faculty.

The online classes are open to students in kindergarten through fifth grade and to those in high school. Kaplan Virtual Education will provide the high school curriculum, and the Connections Academy will provide the elementary school’s curriculum.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has collected roughly 700 names of interested teachers, and the hiring process is moving along quickly in anticipation of fall classes. The program is also seeking two principals and team leaders in math, social studies, language arts and science. Those people will help in the hiring of teachers.

Students and teachers in the program will be able to communicate through e-mail, phones and instant messaging. The companies will provide training for the teachers.

What are the pros and cons of learning online as opposed to the classroom?

[5] Road rash

State transportation leaders are trying to reach agreement on the best way to generate billions of dollars to address Missouri’s long-standing highway needs, particularly along Interstates 70 and 44.

Among the matters discussed at a transportation summit last week are whether and how to raise taxes and what projects to fund. There was little consensus among the 100 who attended.

Members of the House and Senate transportation committees have proposed their own packages for possible placement on the August 2008 ballot, but they fear prospects for approval are slim. A

1-cent sales tax increase proposed by Bill Stouffer, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, would generate $7.2 billion over two years. Another from Neal St. Onge, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, would raise $4.1 billion with a combination of a half-cent sales tax increase and higher fuel taxes and vehicle licensing fees. Toll roads are also on the table.

Some suggested an initiative petition by citizens might have a better chance of winning voter approval, but an expert warned that could be a “daunting” task.

How would you like the state to proceed on highway funding?

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