Montana Editorial Roundup
Posted 11:03 a.m. Wednesday
Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Sept. 16, on Oracle's plans to drop 100 Montana employees:
The story evoked images of George Clooney in "Up in the Air," a film about a man in a three-piece suit who spends his waking life flying around the country firing people — performing the unpleasant duty that executives prefer not to do themselves.
Only this time it was right here in Bozeman, Montana. As employees tell it, three company executives from Texas dropped in to tell Oracle employees that some 100 jobs locally are going to be moved to San Antonio.
And that's how the rest of us get to hear about it, as employees tell it, anonymous employees who fear retribution if they identify themselves.
After hearing the news from employees, calls to corporate headquarters were answered with little explanation. The company, for instance, declined to confirm even how many local jobs were being moved.
Business is business, and hard decisions have to be made in the name of profitability and competitiveness. But a word of (unsolicited) advice to Oracle executives: If you're interested in being good corporate citizens of the community, this could have been handled a whole lot better.
Corporations like to guard their information — any information, even if its disclosure has little to no effect on its standing within the industry. And they will argue that their business is theirs and no one else's. But here in this relatively small city in this sparsely populated state, we all have a stake in the local economy and would appreciate a little transparency when a significant number of jobs are being moved out of town.
And that goes double for the employees who have to hear the news that will have big impacts on their lives from strangers.
Oracle is a mega software corporation with more than 100,000 employees worldwide and assets exceeding $100 billion. Bozeman is small potatoes in a company of that size and reach.
But popular support in the communities where they are located is also a valuable asset. And handling business decisions with human costs in a more transparent way could go long way toward winning that support.
The Great Falls Tribune, Sept. 17, on the state's low wages:
Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte often notes Montana has ranked 49th in the country for wages, which sounds bad. And, yes, it is pretty bad.
It's not the entire story, although it makes for good fodder in a tight race against incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.
Gianforte accuses Bullock of doing a poor job with the economy, and notes Montana's position at 49th in wages paid.
Take a look at the bigger picture, however, and Montanans' incomes are not quite as stark as painted by that lone statistic.
Late last year, the state's chief economist, Barbara Wagner, wrote a six-page essay on the subject of Montana's low wages. The full paper can be found at http://bit.ly/2cJUtue or on the Tribune's website accompanying this editorial.
In the paper, Wagner noted Montana fell behind in wages from 1950 to 2000, but wages are slowly improving. A Sept. 7 email from the Bullock-Cooney campaign cited an Associated Press story saying Montana had "its biggest one-year jump in real wage growth since officials began analyzing the data in 1990."
At the same time, Montana's wage ranking remains very low, close to the bottom.
Montana State University political science Professor David Parker, on his insightful blog called Big Sky Political Analysis, wrote in January the ranking is "not exactly" a true reflection of Montana's economy, given the state was 12th best in unemployment and ranked in the 30s for per capita individual and household income. Recently released Census data from 2015 showed Montana had the greatest percentage increase in household income of any state at 6.8 percent; median household income in Montana in 2015 was $49,509, just ahead of Florida's figure.
Parker also noted retired people, students and Montanans living on investment income tend to drag down the wage figure because they might not have any earned wages in a given year. And Wagner noted Montana's per capita income looks better than the wage ranking because it takes into account self-employed people and landlords, who are making money, but not through wages.
Montana also is affected in part by its wide-open spaces, long distances between towns and its rural nature, Wagner wrote. She added Montana workers' productivity is lower than in many other states.
Montana also lacks very large employers common in urban areas, so Montana has more small businesses that can lack the bulk purchasing and productivity advantages of a large business. In addition, her report said workers with advanced degrees may not be compensated as well in Montana, and the state lags behind in use of computer technology.
We agree Gianforte has a point that Montana needs more, better-paying jobs, a point most leaders will concede. He didn't make up the wage figure. The founder of RightNow Technologies adds he would work hard to try to bring new jobs to Montana if elected, while Bullock stands by his efforts to build Montana's economy.
Across the board, Montanans would applaud higher wages for residents. It's definitely an issue that should be debated thoroughly in this election, but when discussing Montana's economy, it's a topic that's deeper than just one ranking.
The Billings Gazette, on the state's use of ACT scores for students trying to attend college:
ACT college entrance test scores have become important numbers for Montana and Wyoming students, their high schools and our state.
A student's high scores can show that he is prepared for college success that he hadn't even considered. A lower score shows the student and his parents that there's a lot more work to do to prepare for post-secondary education and career.
Three years ago, the Montana Office of Public Instruction and the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education secured a grant to provider the ACT at no charge to every high school senior in Montana public schools. Previously only 60 to 70 percent of Montana students took the ACT. Since 2014, 100 percent have tested, so ACT scores give a fuller picture of student preparedness.
Starting this year, Montana will use ACT scores to fulfill a federal testing requirement and eliminate another test that all 11th graders previously were required to take. That is one good step toward reducing the plethora of standardized tests that has been eating into instructional time in our classrooms.
The state of Wyoming also administers the ACT to all juniors and uses those scores in determining whether schools meet academic expectations at the state level. In comparing these neighbor states, data from ACT shows the average 2016 scores are similar.
All of the average scores for Montana and Wyoming are slightly below national averages because nationally, only 52 percent of students in the class of 2016 took the ACT. In other states, students not already planning to attend college usually don't take the test.
The ACT 2016 report on Montana notes: "Even as the size of the state's graduating class taking the ACT has grown, the average ACT Composite score has only slightly decreased from 20.4 to 20.3. This is normal, as average scores tend to decrease with a broadening of the testing base."
Among Wyoming students who indicated they had no college plans, 22 percent had a composite score of 20 or higher. "This represents an opportunity to explore initiatives to increase the college-going rate of Wyoming students," ACT said.
Montana economists have projected that our state will need more than 1,100 new health care workers every year for the next decade as our population ages rapidly, pushing up demand for care. With a health care workforce shortage already evident in Billings and growing throughout the state and nation, ACT data show a significant opportunity to encourage bright young people into this critical field.
In the 2016 Montana graduating class, 1,587 students indicated they planned to major in health sciences and technologies. Students aiming for health careers had average composite scores of 21, slightly above the state average. Health science and technologies also was the most popular career field among 2016 Wyoming graduates.
Leaders in both states must ensure those students who were interested in health careers before high school graduation get the help they need to fulfill their dreams.
Among ACT's 2016 recommendations for all states, these stand out:
Don't over-test students.
Focus on effective high-quality teaching, which requires investment in post-secondary teaching programs, professional development and kindergarten through college collaboration.
Additionally, success in K-12 math is crucial. Students can't take a year or two break from math and expect to do well in post-secondary math. At the same time, students must be able to see the relevancy of their math classes. One great example of making math meaningful is the construction geometry class offered at Billings Career Center. Those students learn math skills they apply to building a real house.
Standardized tests certainly don't tell us everything we need to know about educational attainment. But when parents, teachers, employers and policy-makers look at the big picture of data with open minds, Montana and Wyoming can learn to do better.