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News from the week of December 10, 2003

TMB will have new conference home

Next year will be the Tracy Area Public Schools' last in the 212 Conference. The District 417 school board has accepted invitations to join the Camden and Little Sioux athletic conference beginning in the fall of 2005.

Camden Conference schools are Canby, Dawson-Boyd, Lakeview (Cottonwood), Lake Benton, Lincoln HI (Hendricks-Ivanhoe), Minneota, Russell-Tyler-Ruthton, and Ellsworth. The Camden Conference would be used for all Tracy/Milroy/Balaton sprots activities except football.

The Little Sioux Conference is a football only conference. TMB football will join Adrian, Murray County Central, Fulda, Minneota, Russell-Tyler-Ruthton, Canby, Ortonville, and Dawson-Boyd. MACCRAY (Maynard/Clara City/Raymond) has also been invited into the Little Sioux.

The Tracy school board approved the new conference arrangements Monday night. The new conference alignments offer significantly shorter traveling distances for TMB activities.


Holiday medallion found

Family searches for 10 hours to win television

Marilee Dapron had been searching for five days with her family.

It was Friday afternoon. The five-member search party had looked high and low. They'd combed city parks inside and out. They'd looked in trees. They'd hunted underneath objects and probed underneath the snow. Ten hours of hunting had turned up no signs of the holiday medallion hidden by the Tracy Retail Partnership.

The group searched for a couple hours Friday when Marilee's fiancÚ, Alfred Johnson, insisted that the medallion must be hidden somewhere near the Christmas Tree Walk at Jacobson Park.

"It was that clue about an 'investigating Ace' that made him think that it had to be where all the Christmas trees were," she said. The Tracy Ace Home Center is across the railroad tracks from Jacobson Park.

The Dapron family—Marilee; her son Kyle, 17; her daughter Delightful, 20; and her two-year-old grandson, Reese— went with Johnson and his 21-year-old son, Tom, to search Jacobson Park for the third time in the week. This time the searchers decided to pull back tree limbs on the decorated Yule trees and closely examine. The Tracy woman was lucky. There are 30 decorated Christmas trees at the park. Marilee found the medallion at the first tree that she scrutinized Friday.

She struck pay dirt on a tree festooned with silver CD-rom disks and strings of packing peanuts. The tree, decorated by the Tracy Publishing Company staff, had a hand-painted yellow and blue medallion with the picture of a steam locomotive tied close to its trunk. The words "Tracy Holiday Medallion" were hand-lettered on the opposite side.

As the first person to discover the medallion, Dapron became the lucky winner of a 24-inch color television from the Tracy Chamber of Commerce.

"When I saw it, I knew it had to be the medallion. The only hard part was cutting it off of the tree," she said.

The Chamber of Commerce office was closed for the afternoon by the time Marilee found the medallion, so she didn't officially get certified as the winner until Monday.


Casey Jones Trail: Will it become reality?

In the mid-1990s, informational meetings were held in the Currie area to explain a proposed bike/pedestrian trail from End-O-Line-Park to Lake Shetek State Park.

Last week, another Currie trail forum was held about a proposed recreational trail linking Pipestone and Redwood counties.

The End-O-Line trail was completed in 1997. Will the proposed Casey Jones Trail also become a reality?

"I'm optimistic," said Robert Klingle, Murray County economic development director.

Casey Jones is an officially designated state trail, running about 70 miles from Split Rock Creek State Park on the southwest, to Walnut Grove on the northeast. But today the trail exists mostly in name only.

The Casey Jones Trail has only about 21 miles of right-of-way. An unpaved 13-mile segment from Pipestone to the Murray County border and a two-mile stub heading west from Lake Wilson are available for hiking, horseback riding, and snowmobiling. The paved six-mile End-O-Line loop trail has been open to bikers, in-line skaters, and walkers since 1997. No other right-of-way exists; nor have specific routes been established for the remainder of the trail.

The cost of a completed trail has been estimated at $13 million, but no state money is available for right-of-way acquisition or construction. The closest the Casey Jones Trail has ever gotten to major state funding, was a $500,000 state bonding bill appropriation that was vetoed by then-Gov. Jesse Ventura.

Supportive sentiments

The Dec. 2 forum Currie was the third of a series of meetings intended to gather public comment about the Casey Jones Trail. Klingle said that the sentiments he heard at the meetings have been "overwhelmingly supportive."

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is now drafting a master plan for the trail. Klingle hopes that some money for the trail will be appropriated in a bonding bill passed by the 2004 state legislature once the plan is adopted.

"Then we could start on some right-of-way acquisition and in developing the design," Klingle said.

The master plan will map out general goals and objectives for the trail. But except for existing right-of-way, the plan does not suggest specific routes. An approved plan is a requirement before any development can be done.

"We hope to have the master plan completed and approved by July," Klingle said. After review by DNR staff members, public hearings will be held on the plan. The state DNR commissioner must give final approval.


Challenges seen in 'No Child Left Behind'

By Val Scherbart Quist

The goal of the new No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation is to bring all students up to the same level of achievement. But will these stringent new rules leave some school districts behind?

The Tracy Area Public Schools board of education learned this week what to expect when NCLB goes into effect next year. High School Principal Chad Anderson updated board members on the subject Monday night.

The goal of NCLB is to close the achievement gap among student groups, such as minorities, low-income students, special education students, and students with limited English proficiency.

By 2014, 100 percent of students must be proficient in reading and math. In addition, teachers and paraprofessionals will have to meet new standards of qualification.

“The overall idea, I think, is terrific,” said Anderson. “It's a great goal to have.” But he also agreed that there will be some major challenges that go along with it. “These are some very high standards to meet.”

NCLB is a historical change in the level of federal involvement in education. The federal government has mandated that every state comply with the new NCLB law or face losing millions of dollars in Title I funds and other federal funds. Title I is a federal program that provides states with resources to help improve the math and reading achievement of low-income students.

Through NCLB, all public school students will be required to meet the standards of “adequate yearly progress.” The percentage of students meeting proficiency must rise to higher levels each year until 2013-2014, when 100 percent of students will have to be proficient — have solid grade-level knowledge and skills — in reading and math. Special education students and students with limited English proficiency will be required to achieve proficiency as well, although they may be allowed to take a different version of the test.

Proficiency levels will be determined through the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, which the Tracy district is already utilizing.

If a school that receives Title I funds does not make adequate yearly progress, it is put on the “needs improvement” list, and sanctions begin.


Kosovo trip gives new perspective on world

By Val Scherbart Quist

In the not-too-distant past, Kosovo was a war-torn country experiencing the horror of ethnic cleansing. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians were forced to flee into the mountains or into neighboring countries.

Today, Kosovo is, for the most part, a peaceful place—a place trying to rebuild.

Sindie Holmberg of Vesta helped in that rebuilding process during a trip there this fall. Holmberg, who operates Holmberg Orchard near Vesta with her husband Lee, is the daughter of Elvera Bisbee of Tracy. She shared her experiences at a Christmas tea at Tracy Lutheran Church last week.

Holmberg was approached by Land O' Lakes about participating in a program created to help Kosovo rebuild a once-prosperous fruit growing industry. Land O' Lakes and the International Rescue Committee are partnered in this program, which is funded by USAID through Save the Children. Land O' Lakes asked Holmberg because of her experience in marketing her own fruit.

There were many factors for Holmberg to consider before deciding to go. The trip was set for Sept. 13-28 — the busiest time of year at Holmberg Orchard, so she had to consider the ramifications that leaving would have. While she would have no out-of-pocket expenses for the trip itself, there would be the cost of hiring extra help. In addition to receiving support from her husband, she consulted her daughter, who works at the orchard, and one of the other employees about covering for her while she was away.

“When I told my other two daughters, their reaction was, `You want to go where?' and then `Why?'” Holmberg said.

“Why” was a question Holmberg had to ask herself as well. The answer? Why not?

“One of the reasons I decided to go is that I didn't want to regret having this opportunity and not taking it,” she said.

So on Sept. 13 Holmberg boarded a plane for a nine-hour flight to Amsterdam. From there, it was another couple of hours to Zurich, and yet another couple of hours to Kosovo. She arrived in the city of Pristina exhausted and not knowing what to expect.

“I'd never been away from home alone before without knowing someone on the other end,” she said.


Council revisits parking lot roof

A plan to erect an open-sided building south of Tracy City Hall is back on the front burner.

Two weeks after the Tracy City Council voted 5-1 to reject bids for the building, the council is reconsidering the project.

On a 5-2 vote Monday, council members agreed draft new specifications and seek new bids for the 60x120-foot structure. Mayor Steve Ferrazzano and council members Tim Byrne, Jan Arvizu, Robert Caron, and Greg Torkelson voted in favor. Russ Stobb and Mike Fraser voted "no."

The vote came after about an hour of often freewheeling discussion among council members and audience members. At least eight people addressed the council to voice support for the project.

At the council's Nov. 24 meeting, the council had rejected three bids for the parking lot roof. Morton Buildings of Redwood Falls had submitted the apparent low bid of $71,283. Karl Campbell Construction of Tracy had a bid of $71,440, while Dulas Construction of Marshall bid $77,972. Council members who voted against the project Nov. 24 cited financial uncertainties facing the city because of looming repair and litigation costs for the Tracy Aquatic Center. Ferrazzano was the only person to vote in favor of the parking lot project Nov. 24.

The proposed building is envisioned as a place to host special community activities like the Tracy Box Car Days beer gardens and the Tracy Sportsmen's Show. For years, the Chamber has hosted its beer gardens underneath a canvass tent. But in 2003, the old tent was too dilapidated to erect, forcing the Chamber of spent $1,500 to rent a tent. Organizers for the Tracy Sportsmen's show, scheduled for April, say that they could rent more space to exhibitors, if the parking lot structure were available.

Reconsideration

The building issue was revisited Monday at Ferrazzano's suggestion. The mayor said that financial problems with the aquatic center should not automatically kill the "permanent structure" in the parking lot.

"We can't change what has happened with the aquatic center. (Repairs) are probably not going to be cheap. But just because we have a problem with the aquatic center doesn't mean that all the other needs of the city should grind to a halt," the mayor said.