NW Today: Lawsuit gets Montana schools more funds

THURSDAY, APRIL 5, 2012, 11:20 A.M.

What’s news in the Northwest today:

HELENA — Montana’s public schools will receive a $4.6 million increase in state funding for the 2012-13 school year under a settlement reached in a lawsuit filed by a coalition of education groups.

Attorney General Steve Bullock’s office negotiated the settlement with the Montana Quality Education Coalition — the group behind a 2002 lawsuit that successfully challenged the state’s public school-funding system as constitutionally inadequate.

The settlement “reflects the Legislature’s obligation to adequately fund quality public schools,” Bullock said in a statement Wednesday.

The 2011 Legislature passed a bill that increased state funding for public schools by 2.43 percent for the 2012-13 school year, which also allowed schools to increase by about $3 million the amount of money they could raise from local taxpayers, Lee Newspapers reported.

However, the school funding bill included a provision that reduced the inflationary increase to about 1.6 percent if Gov. Brian Schweitzer vetoed a separate bill that would have transferred $9 million from several earmarked revenue sources into the general fund. Schweitzer vetoed that bill, saying the transfer was not needed because the state’s general fund could cover the school funding increase. He also criticized Republican lawmakers for tying the two issues together.

Life-size doll doesn’t help reckless carpool-lane driver

RENTON, Wash. — Strapping a life-size doll into the passenger seat can be a high-risk strategy to gain access to a carpool lane. It gets even riskier if you cut off a state trooper in traffic.

The Washington State Patrol says a trooper had to slam on his brakes to avoid hitting a car that cut in front of him to enter the carpool lane during morning rush hour traffic on northbound Interstate 405 in the Renton area.

Capt. Rob Huss says when the trooper pulled the car over for an unsafe lane change he found that the front seat “passenger” was an inflatable life-sized doll wearing a sweatshirt.

The 21-year-old man behind the wheel assured the trooper that he was a good driver and not using the doll as a fake passenger. He still got a $248 ticket last Friday for a carpool lane violation and an unsafe lane change.

Youth concussion prevention bill signed into law

BOISE — Gov. Butch Otter has signed legislation aimed at protecting Idaho’s youth athletes from devastating concussions.

The bill was among more than 100 measures Otter signed into law Tuesday.

The concussion measure requires schools to develop rules to protect youth athletes from punishing hits to the head that pose devastating long-term impacts. The rules will include when students must be pulled from sporting events following a possible concussion, under the new law.

Declo Sen. Denton Darrington sponsored the measure, saying the growth of athletes and the damage concussions cause make the risk too large to ignore.

Matt Kaiserman, a former Boise State University running back whose career was ended by a concussion, also promoted the measure during the 2012 session as a lobbyist for the National Football League.

Man’s Masters tickets become treat for dog

SEATTLE — Russ Berkman’s dream came true when he won a lottery for four passes to Wednesday’s practice round at the Masters golf tournament in Georgia. But the Seattle-area resident’s stomach turned when he found his dog, Sierra, had eaten them.

Berkman told KJR radio on Tuesday he was determined to go. His girlfriend told him he had to make Sierra puke.

He induced vomiting and recovered a gooey glob. Then he went to work trying to put about 20 vomit-covered pieces back together.

He says he recovered about 70 percent of the tickets. He took photos and explained the situation to the Augusta National Golf Club as “my dog ate my Masters tickets!”

They reprinted Berkman’s tickets and had them waiting for him in Georgia.

Man who sailed with kids to Bahamas jailed

BILLINGS — A man who allegedly refused to return his three children to their mother and instead sailed with them to the Bahamas is in custody in Montana to face charges.

James Bryant was booked Thursday into the Gallatin County jail. He faces three counts of parenting interference.

Bryant and his wife, Angela, were arrested last month. They had taken his three children to the Bahamas instead of returning them to their mother in Belgrade after a parental visit that was scheduled to end in August.

The children, ages 12, 13 and 15, have since been returned to their mother, Kelly Bryant.

Angela Bryant is fighting extradition from Hawaii, where she was arrested.

An initial appearance date has not been set for James Bryant.

Man gets nine years over pizza delivery robberies

GREAT FALLS — A 24-year-old Great Falls man has been sentenced to nearly nine years in federal prison for pizza delivery driver robberies in Havre and Great Falls in January 2011 that netted just over $100.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office says Hugh Clarence Ridgley was sentenced Monday to eight years and nine months in prison for two counts of robbery affecting commerce. U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon also ordered him to pay $110 in restitution.

A federal jury convicted Ridgley of robbing a Havre pizza delivery driver at gunpoint on Jan. 6, 2011, after placing an order and asking the driver to bring change for a $100 bill.

Ridgley also was convicted of robbing a Great Falls pizza delivery driver of $20 at knifepoint two days after the Havre robbery.

Seattle schools to make up for snow days

SEATTLE — The Seattle School Board has told the district that classroom instruction is important — and it needs to make up all three days lost to a snowstorm in January.

Seattle Public Schools will make up the days at the end of the school year, the Seattle Times reported. That means the last day will be June 22.

Administrators had said they would ask the state for permission to skip two of those days to save about a half million dollars in transportation and nutrition costs.

But the school board overruled that decision in a 7-0 vote Wednesday night.

If the School Board had allowed the waiver request to go through, state approval would still have been needed. That decision was expected soon.

Parents had complained that losing the instruction days was unfair to kids.

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