Scoot over Mark — I’m on the fence, too

It was evident from the Onamia School Board meeting on March 18 that the board is likely to reapply to the state for permission to continue with the four-day school week, which is in its third year now.

Parents who want to make their opinions known should contact a board member or Superintendent John Varner before April 8, when the school board will hold a special meeting to vote on the issue.

As I said to Varner the other day, I have no dog in the fight, since my kids go to Milaca, but I’ve spent a lot of time mulling over the pros and cons.

The district is making two primary arguments in favor of continuing the four-day week: a financial one and an academic one.

When I asked the board members to clearly state their support or opposition, most came back to the financial argument: “I don’t want to cut any programs.”

I expressed some skepticism about that argument. After all, Varner said it’s a matter of $200,000 — which is less than 2 percent of the district budget.

I’m pretty sure if the board had the will, they could find $200,000 in cuts that wouldn’t kill any programs. We’ll have to agree to disagree on that point.

Which brings us to the second argument: the academic one.

In education, this should always be the number one priority, and I find the district’s argument on this point most convincing — especially regarding the high school.

I’ve been very impressed by the both Isle and Onamia districts’ approach to improving test scores and overall academic performance.

In Onamia, the four-day week has been part of that, with increased time and energy put into staff development.

It seems to have paid dividends as high school test scores have improved dramatically.

However, as school board member Mark Anderson said, the four-day week is probably not ideal for the younger elementary grades.

For now, it appears that the district will try to make the best out of that less-than-ideal situation.

Regarding the academic argument, another obvious question is this: If it’s such a wonderful alternative, why isn’t everyone doing it?

I guess the answer is obvious, too: Our society is entrenched in a five-day work week, and it’s not easy for schools to break out of that mold.

I’ve had some experience in education as an on-again, off-again community college instructor over the course of 20 years — so I’m not a total ignoramus.

I taught a lot of high schoolers in the PSEO program during that time, and I became convinced that new ideas and experimentation in education are essential. I also became convinced that change is very difficult in a system as massive and entrenched in tradition as ours. To use a hackneyed simile, it’s like turning around an ocean liner.

In an ideal world, we’d start from scratch building an educational system that better reflects today’s needs and realities than the one we have — which too often looks more like something that belongs in the 19th-century than the 21st.

The four-day week is an opportunity to look at education in a new way, but it might not be enough to turn the ocean liner around before it hits an iceberg.

Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger. Email him at

Making progress and making history

A lot of your hard-working neighbors deserve pats on the back for the work you’ve seen in the Messenger over the last few months.

So far this year, we’ve published two issues in celebration of the Isle centennial.

You have four more issues to look forward to, and the whole bunch will be available in a keepsake edition like the ones we did for the Wahkon and Onamia centennials in recent years.

The community owes a debt of gratitude to those who have worked on them, many for little or no reward. (I’ve had little to do with the project, so I’m not patting myself on the back — That comes later.)

First and foremost is Randy Christensen, who is almost like an unpaid Messenger employee lately.

Randy is putting heart and soul into this project because he loves his town, loves history and wants the Isle Centennial to be a success.

Following close behind are other contributors: Gerald Wollum, Dolores Haggberg, Hans Woelfle, Bob and Jean Snyder, and Dawn Christensen. They’re drawing on many old Messenger articles — a good number from Mille Lacs historian Joe Fellegy.

Linda Becker, our phototech at the Messenger, and Paulette Paulsen, our graphic designer, may get paid for what they do, but they’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty to make this project happen.

Finally, our boss Kevin Anderson deserves credit for footing the bill and also putting in a lot of blood, sweat and tears.

I heard a second-hand crack someone made when asked to advertise in the special centennial issues. This wiseacre allegedly said Kevin Anderson, owner and publisher of the Messenger, should stop looking for ads and put out the issue for free as a public service.

Well, yeah. And it would be nice if the grocery store gave away its food and the gas station gave away its gas.

In reality, Kevin is heavily subsidizing the centennial issues.

Generally speaking, in our business about 50 percent of a product needs to be advertising to turn a healthy profit.

There were two pages of ads in the last Isle Advance 12-page section. You do the math, and instead of accusing Kevin and the Messenger of being cut-throat capitalists capitalizing on the centennial, send him a thank-you note.

Or better yet, consider advertising in the remaining issues.

We’re also in need of more photos and memories, especially from more recent decades in Isle — the 50s, 60s and 70s.

Progress edition

I can take a little credit for editing and laying out last week’s Progress Edition — 48 pages of feature stories on your neighbors and friends.

We’ve heard a lot of compliments about how well the issue turned out, and I thank everyone for passing along those kudos.

The real credit goes again to Linda and Paulette and our reporters — Diane Gibas, Rob Passons, Bob Statz and Mary Rains — as well as those 18 individuals who were willing to share their memories of growing up at Mille Lacs.

An old cliche in our business is that the newspaper is the first draft of history.

As we write articles for special publications like Progress and go through old papers for something like the centennial issues, that old cliche takes on new meaning.

Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.

Brett’s blog — A three-species tournament

Rob and I were both at the DNR’s meeting with the Mille Lacs Fishery Input Group last week and have been tossing ideas back and forth ever since about how to turn the lemons of a two-inch slot into some sort of lemonade.

He’ll probably write another column about some of his ideas, but here’s one of my brainstorms: A three species tournament on Mille Lacs.

The winner would be the best three-fish stringer including a walleye, a bass and a northern. Heck, you could even expand it to include perch and panfish, or suckers and pout.

The DNR wants to see more harvest of bass and pike, so encouraging people to take home and eat bass and northerns should be on everyone’s agenda this summer.

The tournament would be an interesting test of an angler’s all-around fishing skills. I for one would love to see who has the best overall game — rather than the best walleye angling or bass angling skills.

I will claim no rights over my brilliant idea and will demand no royalties. Any resort that wants to run with it is welcome to it. All I ask in return is that you say something good about the Messenger or yours truly. Just once. Anywhere, anytime. It’ll be on the honor system. No evidence required.

I may also run a contest in the paper this summer for Best Three-Species, Three-Fish stringer. The winner will be given the soon-to-be-coveted title of Mille Lacs Messenger Angler of the Year.

Another possibility: a bass and pike cooking contest. The possibilities are endless! Get creative, people!

Catch-and-release season could be a good thing

The 33 possible regulations DNR biologists have considered for Mille Lacs walleye fishing in 2013 have this in common: They are recipes for disappointment.

Most anglers who come to Mille Lacs in hopes of keeping a walleye to eat will be unable to find one between 18 and 20 inches. Along the way, many will beat the crap out of the walleyes searching for the elusive keeper, and the predicted good bite will mean hooking mortality will account for the lion’s share of the 180,000 pound harvest.

Given the inevitable disappointment, the 2-inch slot will also be a recipe for more whining and moaning about gillnets, treaties, the Indians, etc., and visitors who don’t care about such things will go home with a bad taste in their mouth that has nothing to do with eating smallmouth bass.

A better alternative than a 2-inch slot and a 2-fish bag limit is to make 2013 a catch-and-release season. It’s not unprecedented. In 1962 and 1963, the DNR called off the Mille Lacs northern season — back when pike were in greater demand.

Rather than adopting a regulation that will result in disappointment, we should use this season to give the resource a rest and start the long overdue transition from Mille Lacs as a walleye fillet factory to Mille Lacs as a multi-species fishery, a water recreation mecca, and the state’s premier cultural and historical treasure.

After all, even if the lake gets back to normal, we’re still going to be stuck in this endless quest to eat as many walleyes as possible every year, which means we’ll be back in this same position in two, three or five years.

If I were a fishing guide or a launch captain, here is what I would tell my customers:

Mille Lacs walleyes are in serious trouble, so this is a conservation and education year.

Here’s what we’re going to do: First, we’re going out to fish for walleyes. I’m going to teach you how to catch them and how to release them, and chances are we’ll land a beautiful fish for your photo album.

After that, we’re going to leave the walleyes alone and fish for northerns, bass, muskies or perch. We’ll probably bring a few fish home for supper, which will be good for the walleyes, and I have some recipes that will make you forget you’re not eating walleye. If we’re unsuccessful or you don’t like bass or pike, we have a freezer full of commercially harvested walleye fillets to send home with you.

Finally, embracing a catch-and-release season gives us a bargaining chip with the Ojibwe bands who share the harvest. To our Ojibwe neighbors, I would offer this:

Out of concern for the lake, state anglers are willing to make this a catch-and-release season. We’re still going to kill some fish through hooking mortality, but not nearly as many.

In like fashion, we’d ask you to cut your harvest for 2013 in half again, to 35,000 pounds. That will allow you to continue teaching netting traditions to youth and to share your catch with elders, but it will also give the lake a chance to rest and recover.

We also ask you to consider this for the future: A system of rotating spawning refuges that protect some of the lake’s most hard-hit walleye spawning habitat each year. In exchange, we’ll accept the reality of treaty rights and spawning-season gillnetting and work together to make Mille Lacs a positive and welcoming destination.

To me, a catch-and-release season (and a good recipe for smallmouth bass) might also be a recipe for a better economy and a better community.

Brett Larson is the editor of the Messenger.