As the clock ticks down to your 65th birthday, you’ve got more to think about than a party with cake and a lot of candles. Your future healthcare depends on it.
Most Americans, even those who are still working and plan to continue enrollment in a company health insurance plan, should consider signing up for Medicare during a seven-month window that runs three months before their birthday month and three months afterward. If you’re celebrating your 65th on Nov. 15, for example, your initial enrollment window runs from Aug. 1 to Feb. 28, 2023.
“Three months before your 65th, take a look at your employer’s insurance and compare it with what you’ll be paying for traditional Medicare and a Medigap policy or a Medicare Advantage plan,” said Kathy Sarmiento, SHINE (Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders) Medicare/Medicaid counseling program director at the Alliance for Aging. You’ll also need to factor in costs for Part D, which covers prescriptions and is included in many Medicare Advantage plans, vs. your company’s prescription coverage.
There’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for your Medicare decision. It depends on many factors, including your state of health, whether you have dependents who need coverage through your employer group plan, your finances and your lifestyle.
During the Medicare open enrollment period that runs Oct. 15 to Dec. 7, companies release their prices for various plans for the coming year so it’s a good time to comparison shop. People approaching their 65th birthday often find their mailboxes flooded with offers this time of year, said Sarmiento.
READ MORE: Deciding whether Medicare Advantage plans are right for you
If you miss that window around your birthday, it doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to enroll in Medicare. You can sign up during the Medicare general enrollment period, which runs from Jan.1 to March 31 each year. New in 2023, your coverage will start the month after you sign up, instead of July 1, which used to be the case, so there’s less chance of a coverage gap.
But signing up late also means that your premiums for Medicare Part B, which covers doctor visits and outpatient services, most likely will cost you more.
If you plan to continue working past 65, however, and want to keep your company health plan or stay on your spouse’s group plan, in most cases, but not all, you can delay signing up for Medicare until you or your spouse stop working without a penalty.
You have an eight-month special enrollment window after you or your spouse leave the job. But be forewarned, even if you have COBRA coverage to extend your employer’s healthcare coverage after you stop working, this is not considered credible coverage in the eyes of Medicare, and you still must sign up within that eight-month window after the end of employment or face late penalties.
“As soon as you know you’re going to retire, sign up for Parts A & B of Medicare in order to avoid any gaps in coverage,” said Tricia Sandiego, senior adviser for AARP’s Caregiving and Health Team.
But if you’re zeroing in on that 65th birthday and plan to continue working, it’s important to remember that you have options.
You can keep your company health plan or stay on your spouse’s group plan. That’s up to you but only if you work for what Medicare considers a large company — one with at least 20 employees. Those employers must offer older employees the same healthcare benefits that they offer younger workers.
“You can keep your coverage if it is considered credible coverage — as good or better than Medicare,” said Sarmiento. Just make sure you keep your eye on that eight-month special enrollment window when you finally do retire to avoid any penalties.
However, you don’t have to continue enrollment in your employer plan or that of your spouse if you think you would get better coverage by enrolling in Medicare.
“It’s entirely your choice whether to accept the employer’s health plan and delay Medicare enrollment or to go solely with Medicare or have the employer coverage and Medicare at the same time,” said Sandiego.
But the rules could be different if you work for an employer with fewer than 20 workers.
In that case, an employer may choose to designate Medicare as your primary insurance when you turn 65 and the work plan as secondary, filling in any gaps in Medicare coverage. That means that the employer group plan would only pay for medical claims after Medicare pays its share, so failure to sign up for Medicare on a timely basis could mean you’ll be left without coverage.
With a smaller company it’s “the employer who decides how you interact with Medicare,” said Sandiego in an AARP webinar.
Regardless of the size of your company, Medicare advisers say as you approach your 65th birthday, you should check with your company’s human resources staff and with your union benefits administrator if you’re a union member to make sure you understand your company’s policies on Medicare enrollment.
There are also different rules for state and federal employees, active members of the military and those eligible for railroad retirement benefits.
Some people choose to sign up for Medicare Part A, which covers hospital stays, as soon as they are eligible even if they’re still working. “It’s free [for those who have worked for 40 calendar quarters and paid into the Social Security system],” said Sarmiento. But she advises anyone who wants to retain their employer’s plan after age 65 to put off signing up for Part B until they leave the job.
The average Part B premium for a Medicare Advantage plan is $170.10 monthly. “I would sign up for Part A anyway just to have it done, but you don’t want to have to pay that $170,” said Sarmiento.
However, you’ve got to do the math.
While I was working at my last employer, for example, my co-pay for ongoing physical therapy was $70. Since I needed three sessions per week, that quickly added up. I later discovered that under a Medicare Advantage plan available in South Florida, my co-pay for the same physical therapy would have been either 0 or $10 per session.
Such a cost advantage might not work out for everyone, however.
Another potential problem in signing up for Medicare Part B while still working, Sarmiento said, is that an employee will lose the benefits from their work plan. “If you’re insuring dependents under insurance from your employer, what will those dependents do? They’ll have to go to healthcare.gov,” she said.
Another factor to be aware of if you’re considering traditional Medicare with a Medigap policy that will fill in coverage gaps is that unless you buy a Medigap policy within six months of enrolling in Medicare Part B, a Medigap insurer can reject you or charge you more if you have a preexisting condition.
If you’re 65 or older and sign up within the six-month window, a Medigap insurer cannot reject you for a preexisting condition such as diabetes.
As workers approach their milestone 65th birthdays, they also need to think about what type of Medicare coverage will work the best for them: traditional Medicare with a supplemental Medigap policy or a Medical Advantage HMO, which generally won’t allow out-of-network providers except in the case of emergencies, or a Medical Advantage PPO, which has its network of providers but also allows you to go out-of-network with higher co-pays and other out-of-pocket expenses.
Also becoming increasingly popular in more affluent areas is concierge medicine, essentially a private fee for service Medicare that is a contract between a patient and doctor, said Sarmiento.
As older workers make their decision between Medicare or an employer plan, they should also be aware that under the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, some of their prescription expenses under Medicare will be going down.
For example, beginning in 2023 and continuing through 2025, the Medicare Part D co-payment for insulin will be capped at $35 per month and beginning in 2025, the maximum out-of-pocket expense Medicare enrollees will pay for prescription drugs will be limited to $2,000 per year.
Those and other changes mandated by the Inflation Reduction Act should all go into the equation as workers 65 and older determine whether Medicare or an employer plan will work better for them.
“This will be very helpful for people with expensive medicines,” said Sarmiento.
Here are a few scenarios that may help guide your decision on your future healthcare coverage as you approach the end of your working career:
Matt plans an active retirement that includes the kind of fun travel he’s never had time for during his career. He has grandkids in California, a daughter in New York and visiting every national park is on his bucket list. What type of Medicare coverage would be best for him?
Original Medicare allows an enrollee to go to any hospital or doctor in the United States as long as the providers take Medicare. That could be a plus for a frequent traveler. A Medigap policy also may cover a foreign travel emergency.
Medicare Advantage plans can be more restrictive.
While a Medicare Advantage HMO would pay for an emergency room visit anywhere in the United States, it wouldn’t pay other out-of-network expenses and the network might be limited to South Florida or Florida only. A PPO allows a patient to go outside-network but co-pays may range anywhere from 20 to 50 percent, said Sarmiento.
Some Advantage plans also offer a foreign travel benefit. “Historically most do not,” she said.
Miguel is 64. He has a lot of dental work he has been putting off: a bridge and a couple crowns. He has good dental coverage at his workplace. Should he get his dental work done now or after he retires in a few years when he is on Medicare?
If he is considering original Medicare, it doesn’t cover dental costs.
Most Medicare Advantage plans pay for basic dental services such as exams, cleaning, fluoride, and x-rays but many don’t cover implants, bridges and other more complicated dental work or put restrictions on how much of these procedures they will cover. Most will also require the use of a network dentist and prior approval.
Veronica is single, 66 years old, has no dependents and is still working at her longtime job. She’s always been on her firm’s group plan and planned to sign up for Medicare when she retires in a year or two, but the company recently switched insurance plans and she doesn’t like the new plan. The deductibles are high, the benefits less and not all her doctors are in the new network.
Veronica has options and doesn’t have to put up with a company plan that no longer works for her.
During a special enrollment period, she could inform Social Security that she wants to sign up for Medicare Parts A and B and forgo her company insurance plan, said Sarmiento. But since she has passed her 65th birthday and doesn’t want to incur a penalty, Sarmiento said she should get a letter from her employer stating that she has had insurance from the company since she was 65.
Marta, 64, who works as an executive assistant, has noticed that her hearing isn’t quite what it used to be and wonders if she will need hearing aids soon. As she nears her 65th birthday, she should explore what her current employer plan pays for this high-ticket item and perhaps get her hearing aids now if the coverage is good.
If she decides to opt for original Medicare coverage as she continues to work, she should be aware that routine hearing exams, hearing aids and fittings won’t be covered. Original Medicare only covers a hearing exam when used to diagnose a medical problem and then the patient pays 20 percent after deductible.
Many Medicare Advantage plans do offer some coverage for hearing exams and hearing aids, but in some plans the out-of-pocket for hearing aids can still be substantial and Marta would most likely have to go to an in-network hearing aid provider.
What happens if you choose a Medicare plan you’re not happy with? “If it isn’t good for you, you have the Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 enrollment period and you can always change,” Sarmiento points out.
©2022 Miami Herald. Visit miamiherald.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
The Army on Wednesday released its new plan describing how it intends to combat climate change built around trying to survive increasingly extreme weather while limiting the service's contribution to the problem.
While the plan offers ways to reduce climate change, it does so without directly acknowledging the military's hand in exacerbating the problem as one of the largest industry emitters of greenhouse gases in the world.
As the Pentagon pushes through what many experts describe as likely irreversible impacts to the planet resulting from emissions, the service's plan is founded on one very Army word: mitigation.
The 50-page plan, which is an extension of the service's overall Army Climate Strategy released earlier this year, offers a series of ambitious goals to meet Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin's 2021 call to "immediately take appropriate policy actions to prioritize climate change considerations" as the Pentagon points to several instances of climate change-related events that have affected the services.
"Dangerous levels of greenhouse gases (GHG) have already accumulated in the Earth's atmosphere," the Climate Strategy Implementation Plan said. "While the Army cannot address all or even most GHG emissions, the right initiatives, investments, and policies can significantly reduce Army GHG emissions while at the same time enhancing readiness."
"In climate change terms, this is known as 'mitigation,'" it continued.
One area where climate change is causing challenges for the Army is by creating increasingly extreme weather.
"The effects of extreme weather exacerbated by climate change have already had profound impacts on the DOD," a Pentagon press release said Monday, going on to describe damages to military installations as a result of extreme weather and rising sea levels.
In 2018, Hurricane Michael demolished at least half of the structures on Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, costing $5 billion to fix, according to the release, one example of the potential impact of extreme weather on military facilities.
The increase in extreme weather will also put a strain on the National Guard's disaster response abilities, the Pentagon said, as the country watched Guardsmen rescue people from extreme weather in Kentucky and Florida recently.
The Army also included an ominous warning about the broader risks that climate change poses for the military.
"Indeed, climate change has been described as a 'threat multiplier,'" the plan said. "Extreme drought and flooding will displace individuals and communities, increasing the potential for human conflict and the demand for Army humanitarian relief and disaster response at home and abroad."
"For the foreseeable future, climate impacts will disrupt Army activities and increase the frequency of crisis deployments," the plan added.
But in trying to explain the impact and countermeasures the military will take, the services have generally been reticent to address the scale of military emissions.
As of 2019, the military has released over 1,000 million metric tons of greenhouse gases since 2001, according to a study from Brown University's Watson Institute.
The Pentagon produced a total of "527 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent from 2010 to 2017, an average of about 66 million metric tons per year in this period, roughly the same greenhouse gas emissions of 14 million passenger cars driven for one year," according to the study.
The military was also the single largest consumer of energy in the United States at the time, although as the Global War on Terror has come to a close, the energy consumption levels have steadily dipped over the last decade.
The Army is looking to further reduce that consumption, while battening down the hatches for the damage climate change will likely bring.
"As extreme weather becomes commonplace, the Army must adapt its installations, acquisition programs, and training so that the Army can operate in this changing environment and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions," said Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth in a Wednesday press release. "This climate implementation plan will Improve our resiliency and readiness in the face of these changes."
Some of the Army's goals outlined in the Climate Strategy Plan include the introduction of an Electric Light Reconnaissance vehicle next year -- the first in what the service hopes to be a long line of rechargeable combat vehicles by 2050. Additionally, the Army wants to provide "100% carbon-pollution-free electricity" for all its installations by 2030; achieve a reduction of 50% greenhouse emissions for all Army buildings by 2032; and achieve "net-zero" emissions for all installations by 2045.
The plan released Wednesday is meant to provide guidance on how to support those goals. Instructions include "using existing Army processes" to reach the goals, tracking emission closely, and allowing subordinate units to participate in "technology assessment and demonstration programs which provide resources to test and validate new ideas."
The Air Force released its own climate action plan a few hours before its sister branch, promising a net-zero emissions goal by 2046, according to NBC News.
-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.
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Published Sep 26, 2022 9:13 AM
Compasses and GPS units get all the glory, but altimeter watches are incredibly valuable tools in the outdoors. A quality plan involves redundancies, and knowing your altitude can help you locate your position on a map in the event that visibility and satellite signals fail. Because altimeter watches function in a very different way from global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) like GPS, they also provide unique capabilities like sensing changes in the weather so you can prepare for an incoming storm.
Realistically, a watch with an altimeter is going to come with a compass and GPS, as well. If you see products marked as ABC watches, that stands for altimeter, barometer, and compass — and may or may not offer GPS. In this gear guide, you’ll find the best options out there spanning from entry-level to cutting-edge technology. Let’s get you set up with an altimeter watch and hit the trail.
The Garmin Instinct Solar Tactical checks all the boxes for a rugged, reliable ABC watch you can trust in the outdoors. It combines multiple GNSS networks (GPS, Galileo, and GLONASS) that can establish a connection almost anywhere in the world with an internal barometer to provide accurate altitude readings. It can also track your pace, heading, waypoints, and health factors, making it an incredible navigational tool in the field. At $500, it’s moderately priced and will likely feel like you got more than you paid for.
Because of all the additional features and capabilities (plus more when paired to your phone using the Garmin Connect app), this is a step up for people who want more than a basic altimeter watch. It’s certainly capable of handling life in the military, thanks to its stealth mode, night-vision compatibility, dual grid coordinates, and a kill switch that can erase all data in seconds. Unlike a lot of outdoor adventure watches, it’s small and subtle enough to wear every day without feeling out of place in town.
This is a fantastic choice for anyone who wants one watch to do every job. Land nav in the field? Piece of cake. Training or working out? No sweat. Hell, it even looks cool in street clothes. At the time of writing, I have three of the watches on this list on my nightstand, and I reach for the Instinct 2 Solar Tactical more often than not because it’s so versatile and easy to use. If you can afford it, this one is a real winner.
Why It Made The Cut
Full suite of navigational tools
Huge selection of apps for specific sports and activities
Solar charging extends battery life
Still fairly expensive compared to non-GPS altimeter watches
Feels less premium than a lot of other Garmin adventure watches
Suunto takes a more old-school approach to the altimeter watch game with the Core Alpha, a variation of the brand’s rugged adventure watch tailored to life in the military. Its altimeter runs off an onboard barometer, so you won’t be dependent on satellite signals to get a reading. That’s reassuring on its own and welcome news to anyone who’s concerned about OPSEC when using a GPS-connected device. Just remember that this kind of altimeter is susceptible to interference caused by changes in the weather. Frequent calibration using known altitudes can minimize this effect.
To meet the U.S. military’s requirements for MIL-STD-810, the Core Alpha had to pass nine rigorous durability tests. It then got a red display that can be used with night vision, and a blacked-out exterior (except for glow-ing-the-dark indices on the rotating bezel). The barometer can also track changes in the weather and alert you to approaching storms. Other tools include a thermometer, digital compass, and the usual timers and alarms you’d find on a digital watch.
The Suunto Core Alpha is a great entry point into the world of adventure watches. It’s simple and feels less premium than the other options here, but it also costs significantly less than most of them. I’ve had one in the rotation for several months and never feel short-changed by it. It’s not as precise or feature-rich as the Garmin watches I’ve tested, but that’s OK; it’s good to see options that work with lower budgets.
Why It Made The Cut
Spend less for a proven military ABC watch
Large display is easy to read and works with night vision
Who doesn’t love a rotating bezel?
Nowhere near Garmin’s fit and finish (or performance)
Barometer-only altimeter is subject to weather fluctuations
The Garmin Foretrex 601 uses an onboard barometer and multi-band GNSS positioning to provide not only accurate altitude readings, but also location information in multiple formats, route guidance, and compass headings. It may not look fancy, but it’s a beast of a tool that’s built for the kinds of challenges you’ll face in the military. One of our staff gear testers took a Foretrex 601 to Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms in California for several weeks, and came back impressed. He noted that it wasn’t quite as accurate as the military’s DAGR, but he loved the functionality, night vision-compatible display, intuitive controls, and long battery life.
Outside of a military environment, this is a great altimeter watch and GPS device for more adventure in the more remote parts of the world. If you plan on hunting or backpacking in one of the United States’ wilderness or Bureau of Land Management areas, the Foretrex 601 will be right at home. It can tell you where you are, where you need to be, and how to get there.
Because of its size, the Foretrex 601 isn’t going to be an everyday GPS watch. It’s built for dedicated use outdoors by service members, guides, and other people who navigate open terrain for a living. The good news is that the lack of flashy features keeps the price down, so people in the military can actually afford it. Wear it on your wrist, clip it to your pack strap, or mount it to your plate carrier and get stepping.
Why It Made The Cut
Get an accurate altitude using a barometer and GNSS
Store and use waypoints in MGRS or latitude/longitude format
Display is visible with night vision
Massive compared to our other picks
Uses disposable AAA batteries
Casio opted to power this G-Shock’s altimeter with an integrated barometer rather than GPS. That helps make it a standalone piece of tech, and a nice side effect is a sub-$350 price tag. The barometer tracks changes in ambient pressure and will notify you when there’s bad weather brewing. Other sensors include a thermometer and a digital compass with magnetic declination correction. All this is wrapped up in Casio’s famously tough resin case.
Casio designed the GW9400-1B for military use, but its navigational tools, 20-meter waterproof rating, and eight-month battery life are just as useful off base. It’s a solid piece of gear for hunting, camping, backpacking, and trail running. The G-Shock has also become a bit of a status symbol among watch enthusiasts, so you might even get some approving nods in places you might not expect them.
There’s no ignoring the fact that this G-Shock is a monster of a watch. The 55-millimeter case diameter is even bigger than the Garmin tactix 7, and that’s saying something. If you want something understated for everyday use, look elsewhere (like the Garmin Instinct 2 Solar tactical). However, if you want a hardcore altimeter watch with all the features of an ABC watch and none of the cost of a GPS watch that you can wear in the field and not worry about, this is the one for you.
Why It Made The Cut
Famously durable resin case and band
Sensors include an altimeter, barometer, digital compass, and thermometer
Solar charging extends the already impressive battery life
Rudimentary display compared to many other tactical watches
Large and clunky for people with average to small wrists
Garmin loaded the tactix 7 with multi-band GNSS support that includes GPS, Galileo, and GLONASS satellite networks, and an onboard barometer that measures air pressure to calculate your altitude. Between the two methods, you’ll always have a solid idea of where you are. All those international satellites also yield incredibly accurate location and navigational data worldwide. Plot points, plan a route, and monitor your progress with the 1.4-inch full-color touchscreen display.
The tactix 7 is the apex predator of the Garmin food chain, so it comes with all the brand’s bells and whistles. Tactical features include stealth mode, night vision mode, dual-format grid coordinates, and a kill switch to clear the watch’s memory. It also has a massive ensemble of training and sports apps to keep you fit, a suite of aviation apps that pilots can use in the air, and a built-in LED flashlight with white and green light. Honestly, if something can fit in a watch, it’s probably here.
The tactix 7 will be outside most people’s budget, but if you can swing one, you’ll end up with a truly epic piece of equipment. This watch is more than an altitude watch, more than an outdoors watch, and more than a GPS watch. It’s a global navigator you can wear, and it’s a dream come true for professionals who demand the best.
Why It Made The Cut
Loaded with features that are useful on the battlefield
Massive, customizable, full-color, touchscreen display
Excellent maps and navigational tools
Prohibitively expensive for most recreational users
Might be too large to wear casually
All the products you see here earned their spots on this list, but that doesn’t make them interchangeable. Before you click that “buy now” button, make sure the one you choose meets your specific needs.
Not all altimeters function the same way. You might even get different readings on one device. We can focus on the basics of GPS and barometric altimeters, but a lot of the information on this Topic comes from pilots, so my sourcing is aviation-heavy. That makes sense — if anyone needs to have precise altitude readings, it’s the people hurtling through the air at hundreds of miles per hour, sometimes without any visibility.
One of the ways smartwatches determine altitude is by using information from global satellite networks like GPS, Galileo, and GLONASS (or a combination of multiple networks). Satellites orbit at known altitudes, so by triangulating your position by determining how far you are from multiple satellites, the watch can estimate your height above sea level. The problem is that the radio signals between your altimeter watch and these satellites can suffer from interference and you may experience blackouts in coverage. When that happens, you’ll get an inaccurate reading or no reading at all. Problems with GPS altimeters are rare, but they can happen.
Barometric altimeters are an example of old-school, analog tech that’s just as relevant today as ever. In this case, the whole instrument is contained inside your watch, so you’ll never have to worry about poor signal or outside interference. Basically, tiny components expand and contract based on ambient air pressure to provide a measurement. It works for altimeter watches and it works for modern aircraft. The drawback is that air pressure isn’t constant; barometric pressure changes with the weather. That can actually be an asset because it allows ABC watches to track changes in air pressure and alert you to incoming weather systems.
So, which type of altimeter is best? Both. Watches that use GPS and a barometer to determine altitude will give you more information to work with. If you have to choose just one, you’ll likely end up with a barometric altimeter watch because it’s uncommon for GPS watches to come without ABC capability.
As with any outdoor gear, there’s a big difference between recreational and professional use. If you just want to track your elevation gain on a hike, run, or bike ride, you can certainly get away with using a very basic altimeter watch. If you only want to navigate in a military environment, something like a Garmin Foretrex 601 is a great choice and can save you a lot of money. If you want something that can do it all and serve as your daily smartwatch and fitness tracker, plan on shelling out some serious cash. Know what you expect from your gear and compare that to each of the products on this list to make sure you get the right one.
If I could give every one of our readers a Garmin tactix 7, I would. It’s frankly amazing that so much technology can be crammed inside a watch. All that performance is expensive, though, so you can’t get a base tactix 7 for less than $1,000. If you can swing that (or the up-spec Pro edition, which I recommend), great; if not, there are a lot of rock-solid alternatives here that cost a lot less.
A: An altimeter watch is used for navigation. They’re particularly helpful if you’re traveling in high-altitude areas while climbing a mountain or flying in a plane. An altimeter watch tells you your altitude and time, and most modern ones provide additional data points like location and direction.
A: Accuracy will vary among different altimeter watches, however, Garmin claims to provide altitude readings accurate within 50 feet from 2,000 feet below sea level to 30,000 feet above sea level (if you exceed that without pressurization, good on you). Remember that using barometric pressure will get you close, but the reading will fluctuate with changes in air pressure. Altimeter watches with GPS sensors are more accurate. No matter what you choose, frequent calibration at known altitudes can keep you on track.
A: All of the smartwatches in the world? Probably, but all the ones on this list definitely do.
A: Again, this varies. The Apple Watch battery is reliable but doesn’t last very long. The Suunto Core’s battery should last more than a year, but the other capabilities are limited. Garmin’s GPS watches strike an excellent balance with legendary durability and battery life that can exceed a month (depending on the model and exposure to sunlight).
A: Barometers are useful for checking your altitude. The ones in watches can typically track air pressure, which allows them to predict changes in the weather. Many altimeter watches can produce an audible alarm to let you know a storm is on the way.
A: These two terms are probably redundant. A GPS device can use satellite measurements and fancy math to determine your distance from them and, as a result, your altitude above sea level. Location can be used independently if you know the exact altitude at your location already and use that information to calibrate your altimeter watch.
The Garmin Instinct 2 Solar Tactical is a rock-solid piece of gear that goes way beyond the basics of an altimeter watch. Yes, it costs extra, but it can also legitimately serve as your only adventure watch, altimeter, GPS device, health monitor, and more.
This gear guide required me to go pretty far down the rabbit hole. There are multiple types of systems that produce altitude readings in very different ways. There’s also a big difference between using this information on a hike and using it to fly an aircraft by its instruments. As a result, communities have their own standards for accuracy, reliability, and price. I familiarized myself with as many as I could, understanding that you’ll almost definitely be using yours on foot.
I’ve used a few of the products on this list myself, but I also consulted a few other gear testers who I consider to be extremely credible. Those sources are linked throughout, so you can dive deeper into the weeds if you want more information. If you want to get more information on the ultra-capable Garmin tactix 7, check out the hands-on review and first look at the new model.
Task & Purpose and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links. We independently evaluate gear by putting products in the hands of subject matter experts. The products we test may be purchased by Task & Purpose, our staff, or provided for review by a manufacturer. No matter the source, our testing procedures and our assessments remain free from third-party influence. Learn more about our product review process.
In exact months, Ja’Marquis Perkins has watched house prices come down to earth. As a real estate agent in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, he’s begun advising buyers to look for deals where they might once have faced bidding wars. He recently helped a first-time buyer close on a two-bedroom house for $185,000, which was below the listing price. “It’s definitely starting to slow down. Homes are going for less than what owners had asked,” he says.
As goes Tuscaloosa, so goes the nation.
A red-hot U.S. property market juiced by rock-bottom mortgage rates is finally cooling as the Fed raises interest rates to curb inflation. Most cities are seeing fewer sales and flat or falling house prices as higher borrowing costs bite. In July, month-on-month average sales prices fell for the first time since January 2019, according to a national home-price index.
The sharpest falls are in cities like Seattle, Boise, and Los Angeles that had seen some of the biggest run-ups in prices, says Skylar Olsen, chief economist at Zillow, an online real estate platform. Not all markets are swooning; buying has been strong in Florida, hurricane damage notwithstanding. But the overall trend is clear: House prices have peaked.
“This is a cooldown. Sales are pulling back. Prices are pulling back. But supply is also pulling back,” says Ms. Olsen.
For middle-class Americans trying to buy their first home, or move up the property ladder, this pullback offers little comfort. House prices are going down but mortgage rates are way up, putting ownership, or a move, out of reach for many. By the yardstick of how much it costs households monthly to own an average house, housing remains unaffordable in most cities. And that puts a chill on the aspirations of younger Americans in particular to own homes and build wealth as their parents did.
Take Greater Boston. In April, the median house cost around $660,000. To afford such a house would require a household income of over $180,000, according to calculations by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. That house might fetch less today, but higher borrowing costs would more than erase any nominal savings. Similarly, the average homebuyer in Los Angeles would need to earn $262,000 to buy the median house there.
Even Sun Belt cities, where land is cheaper and new houses more plentiful, aren’t immune to price inflation. In the Atlanta region, the average house costs $376,000, calling for a minimum income of $103,000. In 2020, the median household income in Atlanta was $64,179.
How far would house prices need to fall to put them within reach of more Americans? Much depends, say analysts, on the strength of the overall economy, employment, and wage growth, as well as the trajectory of interest rates. If nominal house prices keep declining and inflation-adjusted wages go up, housing eventually becomes more affordable.
Edward Pinto, a former executive at Fannie Mae, estimates that U.S. house prices could fall by 10% on average through the end of 2023. That’s still far less than the nearly 40% rise since the start of the pandemic in early 2020.
Such a modest correction in prices doesn’t bode well for aspiring homeowners, says Mr. Pinto, who directs the AEI House Center at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank in Washington. “The problem with affordability for first-time buyers is still going to be with us,” he says.
Housing is considered affordable if total costs – rent or mortgage, plus taxes, insurance and utilities – are no more than 30% of gross income. While rents fell in many cities in 2020 amid pandemic shutdowns, they have since risen on the back of the buoyant real estate market and are likely to remain elevated, underpinned by demand from younger renters who have been unable to afford their first home. High rents relative to incomes are another dampener on homeownership, since it makes it harder for renters to save for a down payment.
In Colorado, where house prices rose rapidly during the pandemic, driven in part by work-from-home movers, the Colorado Futures Center applied a benchmark of 2015 to calculate how far average home prices would need to fall to become affordable. The study found that to restore the income-to-housing ratio of 2015, before the run-up in prices, it would take a statewide decline of 32%, which it noted would cause “considerable pain” to homeowners.
Of course, a rapid fall in house prices brings its own risks. The bursting of a debt-fueled real estate bubble in 2007 ended in a global financial crisis that wiped out billions of dollars in household wealth. Few expect a repeat this time because of tighter mortgage standards and less-leveraged lenders. Another big difference, say analysts, is no supply overhang of new and half-built houses in speculative real estate markets in states like Florida and Nevada.
In fact, the opposite is true: New-home construction has failed to keep up with rising demand, particularly for modest-size homes for first-time buyers. In 2021, the financing agency Freddie Mac estimated the overall shortfall at 3.8 million units, based on a population of 126 million households. It noted that completions of starter homes of 1,400 square feet or less had fallen to 65,000 a year, compared with over 200,000 in the 1990s.
This shift has been driven by land-use regulations, including zoning for single-family homes, along with growing neighborhood resistance to greater density. As land costs rise, developers are less likely to build entry-level houses, so demand for those that already exist pushes prices higher.
This squeeze is particularly acute in California, which struggles to house low-income workers. Some are living instead in cars or recreational vehicles, which has caused friction in wealthy communities. Mountain View, the Bay Area city where Google is headquartered, has banned RVs from parking on most residential streets.
Even for affluent Californians, the price of housing is eye-watering, says Mr. Pinto. In cities like Santa Clara, where the median income is $130,000, modest houses cost over $1 million.
It all comes back to supply and land-use restrictions. “They build very little, and they made land extraordinarily expensive and scarce and that drove the price up,” he says.
The thorny politics of NIMBYism mostly play out locally, though state and federal policy can arm-twist localities to allow more moderately priced housing to be built. President Joe Biden has proposed giving greater incentives to communities that relax zoning laws. Some states have begun easing rules on adding extra units to existing single-family homes.
Homebuilding has been squeezed for other reasons, too. Fed tightening weighs on homebuilders, since it pushes up borrowing costs on projects. Developers also face shortages of skilled labor and higher prices for materials like lumber and concrete. Permits for single-family home construction are down this year, a sign that developers are pulling back, says Ms. Olsen. “That’s what worries me over the long term,” she says.
Rising rates could also crimp the supply of entry-level homes in another way, says Laurie Goodman, a fellow at the left-leaning Urban Institute and founder of its Housing Finance Policy Center. During the easy-money boom, owners of modest houses could take advantage of low mortgage rates to trade up to a larger house that had extra bedrooms for their kids.
For a similar homeowner today who wants more space, the math doesn’t add up, since borrowing costs are so much higher on the new loan than the old one. “You may not like that [starter] house – but you love that mortgage,” says Ms. Goodman.
The pressure to add housing of all sizes isn’t going away. Millennials, the country’s largest demographic group, are becoming homeowners, with rates of ownership among 25-to-34-year-olds rising in exact years. Some Millennials bought their first home during the pandemic helped by record-low interest rates, while those who were college graduates also benefited from a freeze on federal student-debt repayments.
Then there are the millions of young Americans who pay no rent or mortgage because they live with their parents. Around one in five 25-to-34-year-olds report living at home; in California, the share is nearly double, according to Mr. Pinto.
Building more starter homes would help middle-income households to get on the property ladder. Relaxing zoning rules to allow the construction of more rental units, such as multifamily apartment blocks, would also help ease the upward pressure on rents and allow households to save for a down payment, says Alex Schwartz, a professor of public and urban policy at The New School in New York.
But that doesn’t address a segment of the housing market that isn’t on a path to homeownership, namely those earning low wages that don’t get public housing assistance. A pandemic moratorium on evictions, and federal and state aid for rent payments was a balm for many, but those programs largely have ended. For these households, market rents for basic apartments are simply too high, even in Midwest cities like Cleveland that aren’t typically seen as unaffordable.
“There’s a fundamental mismatch between what a renter can afford and the actual cost of operating a housing unit,” says Professor Schwartz.
Ahead of the general election on Nov. 8, Channel 9 is asking candidates in several local races why they’re running and what they hope to accomplish if elected. We sent five questions to all candidates contending to represent Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools on the school board and asked them to respond in about 100 words.
READ MORE coverage from The Political Beat HERE
In all, eighteen candidates are vying for the six open district seats on the CMS school board. Four incumbents are running to keep their position in the nonpartisan races.
Below are the complete, unedited responses of each candidate who chose to participate.
How do you feel the school board handled important COVID-19 decisions like social distancing, masking and remote learning? a. I do not believe that health-based decisions should be made by a board of education, but rather by the Mecklenburg County Health Department or the NC Department of Health. This includes decisions about masking and remote versus in-person learning. The school board should not have been making decisions about mask wearing, health professionals should have been the determinants. b. I was an advocate for a safe return to in-person education and did not agree with the board majority, who abandoned the plan developed by staff to send students back to school in-person in August 2020. I stated publicly on numerous occasions that I had great concerns that the vast majority of our students would not do well academically in remote learning, and that unfortunately was true. I voted against continuing remote learning throughout fall of 2020 and remained an outspoken advocate for in-person learning. c. I vehemently opposed the former Superintendent’s recommendation to end all sports and extra-curricular activities in January 2021. When I learned of his plan, I spent 36 hours nonstop lobbying my colleagues on the school board to solidify enough votes to have a public show of non-support on this staff lead operating decision. That lobbying was successful and ultimately, we were able to allow sports and extra-curriculars to continue. As a result, many CMS teams and individual students won state and regional competitions as a result.
What are the top 3 qualities you want to see in the next Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent?
a. Integrity is a core quality and non-negotiable
b. Excellent communication skills with all stakeholder groups
c. Visionary and Innovative academic leader with strong management skills; must be able to develop a strong strategic plan to move the district forward, must be able to delegate and manage a team. Must hire/place strong talent in the organization to support his vision, then give them the freedom to move their programs forward under her/his watch.
Since the latest round of school performance reports from the state, district officials have detailed various initiatives aimed at improving student outcomes. Do you agree with those initiatives, or do you think the district needs to do more? I support looking research-based practices and evaluating what current programs and initiatives are showing academic gains in students and also look for key indicators and trends in students that are struggling. a. Attendance policy enforcement b. In-person education c. Curriculum integrity across all schools, but allow the school to use flexibility in curriculum delivery. d. Emphasis on small group work in reading and math, including tutoring and one-on-one interventions e. Integrated afterschool programs that coordinate with school day instruction. f. Summer enrichment programs that are integrated with the school curriculum g. MTSS- Multi tier system of support now being implemented to support students’ holistic needs. h. Enhanced professional development I would also like see the following concepts more deeply implemented a. Improved parental engagement- both at school and in the community. This is the “It takes a village” concept. Schools need to be welcoming and encourage parents to be involved, especially in their children’s education journey. Students with engage parents have higher outcomes overall. b. Community wide literacy program, impacting children beginning at birth. There are civic/faith and non-profits in places that could be united behind this, which should include adult literacy. Children exposed to reading and books in infancy and pre-schools years develop higher language cognition and are better prepared for K-12 education.
What do you think needs to be done to address pay and retention among North Carolina teachers? One crucial issue is the teacher pipeline, less students are entering education programs in college. CMS has its Early College program in education and needs to restart the teacher cadet program in all HS to expose students to the teaching profession. The state requirements to teacher licensure when moving from other states needs to be streamlined and reasonable, so teachers can get into the classroom when they move here from out of state. We also need reasonable licensure requirements for lateral entry type teachers, especially in the trades and STEM areas. Retention of teachers is multifaceted. The board needs to continue to lobby the state for improved pay and benefits, especially for veteran teachers. We must all create and ensure a culture of respect and accountability at all levels. That starts with the Superintendent and travels to every level of the organization. We must also ensure a safe workplace.
What sets you apart from your opponents? I have over 2 decades of experience advocating for the education needs of District 1, both as a community advocate and as an elected leader. I have been an effective, solutions-oriented advocate, who has a long history of building relationships with all stakeholders; students, parents, staff, community leaders, `and local/regional/state/federal lawmakers
How do you feel the school board handled important COVID-19 decisions like social distancing, masking and remote learning? As a member of the high risk community and a child that is unable to get the vaccine, I appreciate the fact that the board took the time to look at all the evidence and listen to our community health experts.Overall I feel the board did the best they could with the ever changing information that was available. I also feel that there were mistakes made along the way, as with any new situations, and I feel that if something like this were to happen again, things would be done differently.
What are the top 3 qualities you want to see in the next Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent? Three qualities I want to see in the next superintendent are The person is a Visionary. They have clear vision and goals for the future of CMS. Someone who wants to see those goals through and who has had experience in a mixed urban and rural district. The person has many Leadership skills. Someone who not only has the knowledge of best practices and maximizing achievement, but also surrounds themselves with knowledgeable strong people to help support the superintendent and our educators and staff. Finally to be an excellent communicator and relationship builder. This focuses on the culture of CMS, someone that will encourage our community to come together and build on the whole child learning and the journey to become an anti-racist district that CMS has committed to do doing.
Since the latest round of school performance reports from the state, district officials have detailed various initiatives aimed at improving student outcomes. Do you agree with those initiatives, or do you think the district needs to do more? I think what the board has done is a great start in getting on the correct path. I think more can be done, but taking on too much can also be a detriment to our progress. School performance grades will not be fixed overnight, or even in this BOE term, but we need to continue to make progress as we have been and in ways even bigger strides. We have the highest growth rate of our surrounding counties. If we continue growing our students for more than one year,like we did this past year, our student achievement will continue to improve.
What do you think needs to be done to address pay and retention among North Carolina teachers? Base Salary is something that needs to be addressed at the state level, but the supplement is at the local level. As a board member I can advocate for our educators in Raleigh to fully fund education as I have been for the last 7 years. I will continue to build relationships not only at the state level, but on a county city level as well.
The second way to recruit and retain teachers is by changing the culture of CMS. Making sure that our staff and students’ basic needs are met first. Our staff and students need to feel safe and supported before we can put all of our focus on student achievement.
What sets you apart from your opponents? I am the only candidate in District 1 that is a certified educator in CMS and spent the last 10 years teaching our students.
I am the only democrat who is endorsed on the “Blue Ballot” for district 1.
Not only have I taught in CMS, but I have been a strong public-school education advocate creating connections across Mecklenburg,the state, and in Raleigh.
I am a mother of two elementary school children in CMS. This means I continue to have a vested interest in my children’s and your children’s future in CMS. I will work to continue to build bridges between our community and school board.
How do you feel the school board handled important COVID-19 decisions like social distancing, masking and remote learning? I believe during the unprecedented situation of COVID 19, the board stayed close to the recommendations of the Mecklenburg County Department of Health and attempted to keep our children as well protected as possible. There were a lot of unknown variables as we dealt with the factors surrounding the pandemic. I would like to ensure that there are adequate assessments of lessons learned from what we just experienced on global scale as well as policies authored that will equip us to be better prepared for future instances.
What are the top 3 qualities you want to see in the next Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools superintendent? As we will search for our next Superintendent, the following are 3 qualities that I would like to see reflected in a candidate.
Character- It will be important to discover what each candidate believes in as it relates to their values and educating Children. What is their philosophy of moving the needle in educating children.
Courage- Does the person possess the courage to make a bold move to build a greater CMS. What is their potential forecasted vision for the years down the road and not just for today. It will take courage to be an innovative leader.
Capacity- Does the candidate possess the training, education, and experience to anticipate what is coming down the road as well as possess the ability to proactively navigate thru a crisis that may arise. Experience is a great teacher that can if applied correctly, assist anyone to get out in front of a crisis and allow them proactive and not necessarily reactive.
Since the latest round of school performance reports from the state, district officials have detailed various initiatives aimed at improving student outcomes. Do you agree with those initiatives, or do you think the district needs to do more? In addition, with the current initiatives, high visibility and authentic caring for all stakeholders is crucial. Effecting positive relationships assures that all are working together to assure the best outcome for all students.
What do you think needs to be done to address pay and retention among North Carolina teachers? I believe in the approach of returning to the ancient path of respect and highlighting positive initiatives for the continued professional development for teachers. Teachers are professionals in their field of expertise and we must assist them in becoming greater in their proficiency of the curriculums we are requesting them to teach. As a CMS Board it is important to exemplify before teachers that we are vested in their success as well as a balanced life approach. I believe that we should continue to investigate innovative solutions that will afford us the opportunity to raise teacher salaries and offer a equitable bonus incentive system for all employees.
What sets you apart from your opponents? I am proud of my ability to represent the educational values of the community , demand accountability and be a team player as we become collaborative in working with all stakeholders to get the job done! But most of all my over 20 year’s experience of serving the public and being a voice for those who needed an advocate. I have experienced CMS from the perspective of a parent, community partner/leader and advocate. I believe my experience in all these roles has served a catalyst to prepare me to lead in the office I am pursuing.
How do you feel the school board handled important COVID-19 decisions like social distancing, masking and remote learning? The eight women on the school board failed our students, parents, and taxpayers by not allowing in school learning for over a year. This wrong-headed decision steered parents with resources to send their children to private, religious, or home schools, leaving the vast majority to struggle with virtual learning often without adult supervision. Unfortunately, this left a huge learning gap which some say will take years to fill. It damaged children’s social interactions, resulting in loneliness. These eight women should have followed the private and religious school practices of in classroom learning and leaving masking decisions to the children’s parents.
What are the top 3 qualities you want to see in the next Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent? The three qualities are successfully managing large organizations with innovation, experience as a teacher, and having a high moral character. I would add a fourth qualification that he or she should not be a proponent of woke culture. The woke theme of blaming white people is counterproductive for it tells the black and brown children all their problems stem from white people, so they’re not responsible for their behavior and learning. It also hones in on rejecting traditional morality by promoting sexual deviant lifestyles such as homosexuality and transgender. The lack of discipline sets no behavior standards for students.
Since the latest round of school performance reports from the state, district officials have detailed various initiatives aimed at improving student outcomes. Do you agree with those initiatives, or do you think the district needs to do more? Pre-Kindergarten in small settings for children older than three can help social interaction and reading, writing, and math skills. My reservation is the insistence of teachers, administrators, and school board members of including social emotional learning, which is a disguise for advocating gender identity and telling black and brown children that they’re victims of white supremacy. reading with phonics is a promising initiative that produced results in Mississippi.
I’d like to see some initiatives on vocational training tied with the community colleges. This path offers students a real shot as a productive member of society.
What do you think needs to be done to address pay and retention among North Carolina teachers? The lack of support from administrators for discipline in the classroom is a key reason for many teachers leaving CMS. We see within CMS that disruptive behavior goes unpunished often based on the argument that the troublemaker experienced a difficult childhood. This policy doesn’t support the teacher trying to maintain an orderly learning environment. Too many times it’s the same children causing the disorder.
Teacher’s pay should be commensurate with their educational requirements; however, my sources say many teachers who left CMS went to surrounding counties for less pay but a safer and disciplined learning environment.
What sets you apart from your opponents? I’m the only candidate challenging the woke culture in our schools, which led to low performing and unsafe schools. It’s robbing students of self-esteem, confusing their God given sexuality, and setting no behavior standards.
I’m a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel fighter pilot and Pentagon defense planner and a retired program manager of two successful hundred million dollars programs. My wife and I moved here 18 years ago. Soon afterwards I left retirement to teach high school for ten years. I also have demonstrated my concern for CMS’s failures by speaking at the school board meetings for over a year.
How do you feel the school board handled important COVID-19 decisions like social distancing, masking and remote learning? I believe the CMS School Board handled COVID-19 decisions poorly by locking down and forcing students to learn remotely longer than ANY school district and county in the state and furthermore, forced students and children to wear masks longer than any other school district despite many neighboring counties making their schools mask-optional. The damage done to students suffering from learning loss as a result of the lockdowns is immeasurable and the damage unknown for years to come.
What are the top 3 qualities you want to see in the next Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent?
1. Experienced Superintendent
2. Proven Track Record & History of Success
3. Highly endorsed by former employer, staff, colleagues and teachers
Since the latest round of school performance reports from the state, district officials have detailed various initiatives aimed at improving student outcomes. Do you agree with those initiatives, or do you think the district needs to do more? I firmly believe CMS needs to do MORE to include a significant increase to professional development for our teachers. A study of the teaching methodologies of how our teachers are teaching can help identify areas of improvement teachers can use in the classroom to help students learn better. In addition, identifying successful programs nationwide and implementing “pilot programs” to see if success can be achieved in CMS
What do you think needs to be done to address pay and retention among North Carolina teachers? First and foremost find out the root problems affecting teachers in CMS and identify reasons why they are leaving. To compile this date, conduct EXIT INTERVIEWS of every CMS teacher leaving to apply lessons learned to current teachers in the hopes of keeping them and attracting new, qualified and experienced teachers. Identify key funding needs for increases in teacher pay to make sure all CMS teachers pay is competitive not only in NC but nationwide.
What sets you apart from your opponents? Proven leader in the community, high energy and passionate parent that brings 21 years as a retired Air Force Officer, former small business owner and active community leader that the CMS School Board is sorely lacking. I also bring a sense of empathy, kindness, and listening skills parents deserve in a school board member as well as courage and tenacity to not only fight for but advocate those critical issues most concerning parents.
How do you feel the school board handled important COVID-19 decisions like social distancing, masking and remote learning? I believe we made the appropriate decisions based on the medical advice available at the time. I believe that social distancing and masks were effective. I was disappointed in the lack of effectiveness that remote learning was for so many reasons, especially for our minority students.
What are the top 3 qualities you want to see in the next Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent? Experience as a Superintendent in producing high achievement scores and exceptional growth among a diverse student population in a large urban school district will be my top priority.
I will also consider someone with the classroom and school leadership experience who can spot effective teaching skills and is willing to move staff strategically to produce effective results in every school.
I will be looking to see what types of staff they would be considering to bring with them to fill gaps they perceive we may need to be filled in our management teams.
Since the latest round of school performance reports from the state, district officials have detailed various initiatives aimed at improving student outcomes. Do you agree with those initiatives, or do you think the district needs to do more? I believe the current Student Outcomes Focused Governance (SOFG) initiative is helping the district determine what students know and are able to do. This will identify which students are not meeting growth so resources can be put into place help them. By monitoring progress toward the various goals and guard rails each month, we expect the achievement scores for all students to increase while closing the gaps we currently see among student groups.
I also believe that fully funding the current Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) will help to identify and mitigate the barriers that prevent some students from focusing.
What do you think needs to be done to address pay and retention among North Carolina teachers? Since school districts receive their funds from federal, state and local government. Our state Constitution has says the state has the primary responsibility to fund education. There have been periods of time when our state has met this mandate and our education system has thrived.
That is no longer the case and local counties have been forced to attempt to pick up the slack. Our state Supreme Court is seriously considering mandating our state to fund education according to the Leandro proposal. If that occurs it will go a long way to funding the education needs.
What sets you apart from your opponents? I have a proven record of getting things done especially with respect to making sure CMS bond packages are fiscally sound and equitably distributed. I have traveled extensively to learn the latest innovations in education. I have brought concepts back to CMS, the latest being the SOFG work our board implemented.
I have served our board as Vice-Chair for 2 years and have been elected to 2 terms on the Board of Directors of the NC School Boards Association (NCSBA). This year our local Pride Magazine selected me as one of the Influential Women Leading the Way in Charlotte.
How do you feel the school board handled important COVID-19 decisions like social distancing, masking and remote learning? I think given everything that they were being told at the time the school board acted in good faith. I hope that we have a lot of lessons learned from this, though, that we can go back and refer to in the event something like this happens in the future..
What are the top 3 qualities you want to see in the next Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent? I need to see someone that is capable of inspiring leaders to lead and holding those who are uncapable of leading to account. I understand that school districts need leaders provide a vision for the future, managers that are capable of identifying & communicating the steps needed make the vision achievable AND workers who are able to execute the steps.
Our next superintendent needs to know That the board will hold him accountable for taking action & leading effectively.
Since the latest round of school performance reports from the state, district officials have detailed various initiatives aimed at improving student outcomes. Do you agree with those initiatives, or do you think the district needs to do more? I think that the initiatives that have been laid out have been established in good faith So I am willing to see if they can be successful and give credit where it’s due if they are successful and if they aren’t make changes.
What do you think needs to be done to address pay and retention among North Carolina teachers? The biggest thing that we can do to address paying retention is to provide more opportunities and incentives for people to enter the workforce as well as exit opportunities to remove those who are failing. One thing that I would really love to do is open Our class rings up to the many military instructors that we have that live in this & state. Most of these instructors have bachelor’s degrees and thousands of hours teaching young adults. They also have navigated difficult and rewarding career successfully and they know how to handle large bureaucracies. So I believe this is an asset that we should investigate using much further.
What sets you apart from your opponents? The current BOE member for District II Could walk down the halls of every school in our district and no one would know who they were. My other opponent is directly tied to religious groups that are unwilling to accept our LGBTQ+ students.
So I believe that I am the only candidate that has support from both conservative organizations and liberal organizations as well as parent, Veteran, Latino, African American & LGBTQ+ organizations.
And most importantly, I know for a fact that I am the only candidate that stands for serving students not sides.
How do you feel the school board handled important COVID-19 decisions like social distancing, masking and remote learning? I think the best decisions were made earlier in the pandemic according to the available science. However, the negative impact of remote learning is obvious. The school board did not effectively communicate its safety protocol to students, parents, and staff as they prepared to return to in-person learning. It is clear that CMS needs new leadership to address the student achievement gaps that existed prior to the pandemic.
What are the top 3 qualities you want to see in the next Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent? It is important that he or she establish a supported and effective culture within the district. This involves the Superintendent’s ability to engineer working conditions that promote effectiveteaching and professional growth rather than toxicity, distrust, and low employee morale. Also, theyshould communicate the goals and objectives to employees. The Superintendent should possess an ability to translate complex concepts to individuals and groups in the community who may or may not be engaged with the district.
The Superintendent should possess the capacity to manage change. It is important that they are inclusive and informative rather than forceful and negligent in leading change.
The Superintendent should possesses the ability to manage data. They must be able to anticipate problems and quickly respond or reengineer programs.
Since the latest round of school performance reports from the state, district officials have detailed various initiatives aimed at improving student outcomes. Do you agree with those initiatives, or do you think the district needs to do more? I agree with the exact initiatives on student outcomes. However, some members of the board have served for almost a decade or more. They should have been laser-focused on student outcomes well before this exact initiative.
What do you think needs to be done to address pay and retention among North Carolina teachers? I support the findings of the 1997 Leandro v. State case, in which the judge directed the State of North Carolina to take action to ensure that students across the state would receive “a sound basic education”, guaranteed them in the North Carolina Constitution. According to Article IX, Section 2 of that Constitution, the State is obligated to fund free public education with equal opportunities provided for all students. Therefore, I believe that public education should be adequately funded by the State.
The state of North Carolina has a $6.2 billion budget surplus which came, in part, fromfederal assistance and sales tax from online spending during the pandemic.
Furthermore, the WestEd report (2018), identified key areas where resources were needed to address that included funding, the teacher pipeline, principal training, lack of Pre-K programs, and the challenges of high-poverty schools. Adequately funding public education was central to the report. One recommendation is to “Provide a qualified, well-prepared, and diverse teaching staff in every school”. It further states, “Working conditions and staffing structures should enable all staff members to do their job effectively and grow professionally while supporting the academic, personal, and social growth of all their students”.
What sets you apart from your opponents? I will be laser-focused on student achievement
How do you feel the school board handled important COVID-19 decisions like social distancing, masking and remote learning? The board made calculated and informed decisions during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Having 2 children that attend CMS and a daughter that is an educator in the district, I am glad the board utilized data, followed the state guidelines as well as the CDC, to ensure our students and staff remained safe while still receiving an education. We have to remember, just because students were not in the building 5 days a week, that did not mean learning was taking place and that our educators were not working hard. Students were learning and educators were working diligently to educate our students through a global pandemic.
What are the top 3 qualities you want to see in the next Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent? The top three qualities I would like to see in our next superintendent are:
1. Data and detailed oriented
2. Possess an equity lens
3. Motivator/Relationship Builder
Since the latest round of school performance reports from the state, district officials have detailed various initiatives aimed at improving student outcomes. Do you agree with those initiatives, or do you think the district needs to do more? As a district we can always do more to Improve student outcomes. As a Board Member, if elected, I would like to have quarterly reports from the academic department as well as the equity department. We must ensure that the assessments throughout the year are aligned with state standards so that we have a better understanding of what our students’ needs are and also provide an opportunity for educators to identify possible improvements in their practices. Consistent reports from the equity department are essential because equity should be at the center of every decision that we make.
What do you think needs to be done to address pay and retention among North Carolina teachers? As a board we must continue to lobby to state representatives to increase teacher pay. Also as a district we must commit to investing in our teachers. We must provide professional development to our staff that is relevant. One of the complaints I hear from teachers is that some of the professional development they receive is not relevant. We must implement professional development that promotes growth. As educators grow they feel supported. Supporting our educators to the highest capacity possible is how we will be able to retain teachers other than the obvious, which is increasing teacher pay.
What sets you apart from your opponents? I pride myself on being a systems thinker. I understand that there are multiple disciplines involved when attempting to solve the problem of how do meet the needs of each student in CMS. I have a proven track record serving our community. First I am a former educator, so I understand what it’s like to be in the classroom. I have served on several community organizations in a leadership capacity all with the common mission of helping kids. The capacities in which I have served the community are as follows: Chair of the Mayor’s Mentoring Alliance, Chair of the Education Committee for the Black Political Caucus of Charlotte Mecklenburg, Co-Chair of the Student Wellness Committee on the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools Equity Committee. I understand the importance of creating effective policy and as a board member my goal will be to create policy that is effective and equitable. Being a native Charlottean, educating our kids is personal to me. I want to see our city and county to continue to grow and the only way that can happen is if we educate our kids in a manner that when students receive a diploma from Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools they are prepared to be self-sufficient, productive members of society.
How do you feel the school board handled important COVID-19 decisions like social distancing, masking and remote learning? I believe CMS operated in the best interest of the safety of our children with the actions and lenght of time for the distancing, masking and remote learning. I believe the time that CMS used was more than enough to keep our children safe.
What are the top 3 qualities you want to see in the next Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent? I believe for the next superintendent we need to think outside the Box find someone new with possible radical new ideas. Someone who understands the need to have everyone involved especially but not just the majority but the minorities included in what our teachers and students need. A superintendent that understand the need for help in the Latin community which in some areas makes up a large amoung of the students but a lot of times has no spokesperson except for now with me running in district3 which has a large Latin-American presence. We need perhaps someone younger and with a heart for the teachers and sees the need to support our teachers while the teachers support our students.
Since the latest round of school performance reports from the state, district officials have detailed various initiatives aimed at improving student outcomes. Do you agree with those initiatives, or do you think the district needs to do more? I do agree with the initiatives that were detailed and do believe they are a great start but there’s always room for more improvement. There is no such thing as perfect outcome when it comes to our schools performance but we can push ourselves always strive to always work as hard as possible to do the very best for our children and teachers.
What do you think needs to be done to address pay and retention among North Carolina teachers? I believe there has to be a push in every direction to get more funding allocated for teachers pay and their supplies needed to offer the best for our children. The best possible education for our children is only possible by having the best teachers so one hand washes the other. We need to cut the fat from areas that can wait or are not needed to provide the much needed pay increase for our teachers at the same time getting and keeping our teachers engaged in what decisions are made in our schools will keep the retention of our teachers high. If our teachers feel like they have skin in the game and have a real voice to be heard our teachers will know they are valued and this will give our teachers a sense of appreciation and support which will keep them in CMS positions.
What sets you apart from your opponents? I will not ever say anything negative about my opponent all I can say is what I bring to the table. I bring a different and fresh new look at things and not the traditional cookie cutter ideology. I bring an eagerness to move the needle on behalf of our children and teachers. I bring also a perspective that comes from the Latin-American parents in the community which doesn’t have much if any support in CMS because I am a Latin-American parent. I bring with me ideas to include the parents that have the availability to be included more in the day-to-day interaction with different programs one of which I call D.O.D. (Dads on Duty) to help teachers with time and student protection while in school. We need programs that drive and push our children to strive for the best in all categories in school.
How do you feel the school board handled important COVID-19 decisions like social distancing, masking and remote learning? Many of our CMS students families lost loved ones during the peak of Covid. I hope that we never face a health crisis of that scale again. I believe the Board made the best decisions it could given the ever-changing (and sometimes conflicting) recommendations of the CDC, Mecklenburg County Public Health, ABC Collaborative, and other bodies charged with public health and school recommendations.
What are the top 3 qualities you want to see in the next Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent?
I want a superintendent who:
- encourages innovation and risk taking within the parameters of the Board’s goal and guardrails
- balances the needs of the district to provide equal and equitable education experiences across schools, while allowing implementation decisions to be made by the staff members closest to the work
- has high expectations for students, educators, and staff
Since the latest round of school performance reports from the state, district officials have detailed various initiatives aimed at improving student outcomes. Do you agree with those initiatives, or do you think the district needs to do more? I support the strategies adopted to Improve student outcomes. However, more work needs to be done the ensure that those strategies are employed with fidelity, and that they reach all the students who need support.
What do you think needs to be done to address pay and retention among North Carolina teachers? Educators need respect, support, pay. CMS needs to balance the need to standardize curriculum across schools with the flexibility desired by our most experienced teachers to implement the curriculum with integrity.
I supported increasing the County pay supplement 10%, unfortunately the final budget only funded a 5% increase. The North Carolina General Assembly must raise educator pay so it is comparable to other similarly degreed professionals.
What sets you apart from your opponents? I have served on the Board since 2017. This is a challenging job and I have learned how to do it well. I chair the Policy Committee and previously chaired the Facilities Committee. I shepherded the creation of a new equity policy and a Community Equity Committee. I have fully embraced the Board’s student outcomes focused governance work and dedicate a significant amount of my time to monitoring performance in terms of goals and guardrails.
I am responsive to constituent concerns and questions. I actively reach out to constituencies via social media, eNewsletters, community events, and neighborhood meetings.
Did not respond to Channel 9′s questions.
Did not respond to Channel 9′s questions.
How do you feel the school board handled important COVID-19 decisions like social distancing, masking and remote learning? It’s a shame that Washington politicians have made this a political issue instead of looking at the effects that this had on our children, both socially and educationally. By keeping the schools closed the mental health of our children suffered tremendously and the learning loss is going to take a while for the children to recoup.
What are the top 3 qualities you want to see in the next Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent? This is hard to decide, as there are many qualities the new superintendent must have. 1.A visionary, innovative leader who values transparency. 2. An inspirational leader who is accountable and bases decisions based on what is best for students. 3. Demonstrates high ethical standards and leads with integrity. Strong financial intelligence. Successful teaching and administrative experience. Outstanding communication skills.
Since the latest round of school performance reports from the state, district officials have detailed various initiatives aimed at improving student outcomes. Do you agree with those initiatives, or do you think the district needs to do more? These initiatives are just a beginning. The District must allocate more funds to the 50 schools that are failing by the state standards. Standards need to be raised for all children while supporting those who need additional reinforcement so that all children are performing at or above their grade level. The District must allow our teachers to do what they do best: Teach! Let them design lessons that are appropriate for their students rather than giving them a purchased curriculum. The State provides the Standards to follow and the scores needed for success; teachers do not need to be told to be on a certain lesson on a certain day. Finally take away all the additional workshops our teachers are required to take. Last week, CMS added 4 additional workshops to be completed by January 21, 2023. When do our teachers have time to plan and grade lessons? They are not paid to do these additional requirements!
What do you think needs to be done to address pay and retention among North Carolina teachers? CMS should lead the state by creating an incentive plan for retaining teachers. CMS controls the supplement, the state controls the pay, so CMS should pay the teachers who earn their Masters additional monies as an incentive. Rather than keeping teachers at a step for a number of years, these steps should be increased yearly. The current pay does not help the more experienced teacher.
What sets you apart from your opponents? 39+ years of educational experience, 29+ in CMS! I was a teacher, curriculum developer, and administrator, but more importantly I was a CMS parent for 15 years, serving on the PTSA boards of my children’s elementary, middle, and high schools. I worked on the East, South and West sides of Charlotte, so I understand the needs of the different communities. I was at one of the high schools Judge Manning suggested we close, through the hard work of our teachers and staff, we began to close the gap of our students. My priority is the children. We need to rebuild the broken trust between the community and the school system.
How do you feel the school board handled important COVID-19 decisions like social distancing, masking and remote learning? Hindsight is 20/20, so anyone answering this question will be able to point out mistakes, yet no one can change the past, so a more helpful question for students would be “What are we going to do about it moving forward?”
The Board was correct to go remote in March 2020. Beyond that, it gets more complicated. Almost everyone suffered during COVID. The biggest failure by CMS was that it had poor executive leadership, and it doubled down on that poor leadership. I address this in much greater detail at trentmerchant.com/faq.
I’m also looking for an authentic leader who brings
But that’s just me… The Board needs to listen to input from the community, then work together to agree on which traits are must-haves and would-like-to-haves.
Since the latest round of school performance reports from the state, district officials have detailed various initiatives aimed at improving student outcomes. Do you agree with those initiatives, or do you think the district needs to do more? They are on the right path, but there still is not a big unifying goal to inspire the Board, team, and community.
When I was on the CMS Board 2006-2011, we united around the goal of “Raise the Bar and Close the Gaps” related to student achievement. It was the drumbeat that drove every decision, and provided a cohesive framework for all of our initiatives.
It was incredibly successful, as we won the Broad Prize, based on the best overall gains in student achievement and closing achievement gaps in the USA - despite making massive budget cuts due to the Great Recession.
What do you think needs to be done to address pay and retention among North Carolina teachers? I am working on this issue with a school district in California through my consulting practice. The issues vary by county in NC, but in CMS we need to build a culture, which starts with courage and clarity at the top. For teachers, the elements of that culture include:
We also need to build better relationships with county and state leaders.
What sets you apart from your opponents? My professional skill set and authentic style are exactly what CMS needs at this point in time. I bring unmatched experience and perspective to the role, including:
Endorsed by multiple organizations and bipartisan community leaders - see trentmerchant.com/supporters for details
How do you feel the school board handled important COVID-19 decisions like social distancing, masking, and remote learning? I do not envy the position the board was put in during COVID especially given they are not doctors or disease experts. What I can say is none of them were parents of elementary school kids who couldn’t read or were learning to read. I wish they would have prioritized kids’ needs based on grade level after reviewing the progress and outcomes of students and teacher feedback on what was best. We all wanted them safely back in the classroom quicker as remote and hybrid specifically caused tremendous challenges.
What are the top 3 qualities you want to see in the next Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent? · Determined. We need to find someone who has been successful at turning a large organization around where performance is falling short and staff satisfaction has declined. Someone who walks towards challenges. · Servant. We need someone who knows the success of an organization is built by those in it and it is finding the right people and being disciplined enough to listen to them as well on the best path to success. We need someone to create an environment where people feel respected and accountable. · Problem solver. We need someone who is relentless in improving student success for all based on the community vision delivered by the board. They need them to create strategies and plans, measure, and optimize. We need someone looking for issues to solve and making sure CMS has the right plans and empowers the right staff to achieve their goals.
Since the latest round of school performance reports from the state, district officials have detailed various initiatives aimed at improving student outcomes. Do you agree with those initiatives, or do you think the district needs to do more? I think moving toward the goals and guardrail as a framework to measure student outcomes is the right direction for the board. I am not sure it accomplishes what the community wants from the board since it is heavily focused on test scores at a certain period rather than whole-child learning and meeting the needs of every kid. Moreso, I question if we have all the right goals. I also don’t see enough strategy and plans to accomplish these goals filtering down from the superintendent and their leadership as a parent who sits on the Student Improvement Team (SIT) at my kid’s elementary school. It feels like we have goals and the plan is completely placed on the principal and parent group (SIT) which is why we see such variance through our schools and their performance.
What do you think needs to be done to address pay and retention among North Carolina teachers? Overall, the state must start prioritizing funding for public education more than they are now. We now rank at the bottom of per-student spending when looking at the size of NC’s economy. Most teacher pay is dictated at the state level. I look forward to working with the state legislature to get NC back to being one of the top in public education and resourcing teachers properly. The board can start listening to teachers and measuring satisfaction. NC Teacher Working Condition Survey is conducted every two years and roughly 70% of our teachers fill it out. This could be an immediate proxy until we roll out a proper survey. We must understand why they are leaving and then start solving those issues. Some glaring themes are around class size, not enough on-instruction time, too much paperwork and other school duties, enforcement of policies, and lack of professional development. Teachers don’t feel like they can do their job nor are they able to develop further and we have to solve that. That could be technology investments, support staff adjustments, and commitment to communication and development. Also, when they can leave teaching and go get a job making 20-40% more, they need a more livable wage.
What sets you apart from your opponents? I am the mom of 2 elementary school kids who watched my kids start their education career from my home. I am at the beginning of CMS with a Kindergarten and 4th grader. I am also a successful business leader who has served as a corporate marketing executive for multiple Charlotte-based businesses. I have hired the right people and built teams for large multiple-site location organizations. CMS is a large organization with 180 schools and a $2B budget. I have tremendous experience building, collaborating, and securing budgets based on strategy and working with other counterparts to show the return on investment and reallocation needed to achieve goals. I am also honest and transparent and don’t want to play political games nor do I have hidden agendas other than making CMS as great as possible for my kid’s generation and all of the communities in Charlotte.
How do you feel the school board handled important COVID-19 decisions like social distancing, masking and remote learning? CMS handled Covid with care and concern, before vaccines were approved and available for students (age 12) and staff. That said, there was still a gulf between the CMS position and that of the Governor/Secy of HHS that cost all of our children tremendously between August 2020 and Spring 2021. Our advisors laid out the pros and cons, the risk/benefit analysis if you will, in a 6-hour Board briefing. Ultimately, the decisions made by the Board were not rational decisions made based on scientific facts, particularly but not exclusively post vaccine availability. We needed to listen to our medical experts, and every week the evidence mounted that schools were, and in-person learning was, “Safe and Essential.”
The data shows the harm of keeping students of school, and now we work to regain the scholastic abilities of all, and holistically repair our students-both physically and mentally. Of course we are a large school system, but we can’t disregard the mental health of many students, which has been affected by closing the CMS doors for this extended period of time. Bringing more counselors on staff, as well as hiring the appropriate amount of teachers/teacher aides will help ease the stress of all. This will lead to success in all areas, for ALL students, not just District 6.
What are the top 3 qualities you want to see in the next Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent? The top three qualities I will look for in our next Superintendent are:
*Proven leadership of a large ($1B+), complex - preferably services - organization in a regulated industry. Has to have strong, demonstrated track record of establishing culture of accountability, performance management, achieving/exceeding goals, developing a strong team culture of purpose and commitment to the Mission, incenting and rewarding performance while giving counsel to those not meeting goals/performance objectives.
*Accountability; to students/families, faculty/employees and CMS community supporters.
*Accessibility; someone who brings their experience to CMS, but is also open to feedback and input from the BOD, and our community.
Since the latest round of school performance reports from the state, district officials have detailed various initiatives aimed at improving student outcomes. Do you agree with those initiatives, or do you think the district needs to do more? I understand and generally agree with the initiatives, but recognize it’s just a start. We have a long way to go to fill the void of the Covid years, let alone to address the decades-old gaps we so often “admire” as opposed to closing. This will require teamwork from teachers/staff, students, our community and families. The Superintendent can establish initiatives, but they will become empty words without follow through and willingness to assess and readjust as needed. All of that being said, with respect the question itself is a bit misplaced as strategy and execution belongs to the Superintendent and the Board’s job is to evaluate his/her performance in achieving them - so while I certainly have an opinion on the defined initiatives (and have provided some feedback), our primary job as a Board is to evaluate progress toward meeting our Goals and assess, incent and reward staff accordingly.
What do you think needs to be done to address pay and retention among North Carolina teachers? Teachers should be one of the highest paying professions we have in the world, but sadly this is not true. The quote I have seen-”teachers are in it for the outcome, not the income” is great, but teacher pay needs to be addressed and competitive at all levels. To attract and keep quality teachers, NC needs to offer pay commensurate to the experience and demonstrated proficiency, capability and performance. This needs to be addressed at the state level. All of that being said regarding state pay, we must also establish a culture within CMS where staff want to work - CMS being a destination and retirement job - and that includes addressing all aspects of the workplace culture (incl but not limited to student behavior/conduct, reducing load on the teachers - incl offloading some aspects of work *back* to County services, and general workplace code of conduct issues).
What sets you apart from your opponents? Proven leadership experience. My two opponents are each very qualified - no less qualified than I was 7 years ago. Each of us are business professionals, several with executive experience, each of us longtime parents having experience with CMS (incl SIT/local school policy board) on which to reflect. The key difference is that I also have a record of 5 years of service demonstrating with every discussion, debate and vote that I am Student-centered, Mission-focused, and understand the role - both the content and context - to continue to operate in said role from Day 1. I am known very broadly as “A Voice of Reason” and “A Voice for Students” - and am respected by many, if not most, of those recognizing that this is a public service role for me rather than a political seat. I have the community relationships and support both locally and in Raleigh to move our work forward, and am uniquely qualified in my race to do so.
I am asking voters to look at my voting record, and will continue to fight for our students, our faculty, and quality school experiences. We need to focus on sending career and college readystudents into the world. There are many avenues in which we can achieve this, and I’m happy to sit down with anyone to dive into details.
How do you feel the school board handled important COVID-19 decisions like social distancing, masking and remote learning? I try to have some grace regarding the decisions related to Covid-19. As a country we were dealing with an unprecedented series of events and there wasn’t necessarily a roadmap to navigate a pandemic. In my opinion, the decisions were made through the lens of an abundance of caution in the interest of saving and preserving life and not within the lens of maintaining a positive learning environment. In retrospect we know now that social distancing and masking could have allowed our students to remain in school with a level of continuity in the learning experience. There also could have been a better job articulating the reasoning behind the decisions with our communities.
What are the top 3 qualities you want to see in the next Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent? The top three qualities I would like to see are 1. Demonstrated understanding and execution of point leadership, meaning that the next superintendent can surround him/herself with the best support staff to execute a vision. 2. Ability to communicate effectively and transparently to the community, the CMS organization, and the board. The energy to execute and deliver upon the goals and expectations of the CMS Board.
Since the latest round of school performance reports from the state, district officials have detailed various initiatives aimed at improving student outcomes. Do you agree with those initiatives, or do you think the district needs to do more? I think the initiatives put forward have promise but much like initiatives in previous years there is a disconnect between addressing root issues in an individualized manner vs a district wide initiative. It is my desire to see more locally designed solutions to address inequity and achievement gaps as there are unique and nuanced root causes within numbered districts and even at schools within the same districts. We must get better at focusing on data driven outcomes.
What do you think needs to be done to address pay and retention among North Carolina teachers? Recruitment and retention is a serious matter within CMS, and I do not think pay and total compensation tells the whole story. Let me preface that with the statement that our teachers deserve a livable wage, and we should do everything we can to stay competitive within the market. We have challenges filling that gap when our state legislature has not fully funded us but again that is not the whole story. We need to also make sure our educators feel supported and have a reasonable work environment. We could learn a lot from just listening to what they say.
What sets you apart from your opponents? In my district I am the only candidate that has served CMS at every level at some capacity. At the elementary level I served as a 3-year SLT Member and VP of the PTA. At the Middle school level, I served as a 3-year SLT member and President of a PTA. I continue to serve at the High School level on the PTA. In addition, I am on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Board for the College of Engineering at the University of Missouri. I have a passion for education and ensuring all students have positive outcomes. I bring a fresh vision with an emphasis on data driven transformative solutions to make CMS the district of choice for education.
Vote 2022 Stories
Channel 9 General Election Guide: CMS School Board candidates
Channel 9 General Election Guide: North Carolina state House candidates
Channel 9 General Election Guide: North Carolina state Senate candidates
Channel 9 General Election Guide: Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioner candidates
(WATCH BELOW: Election turnout lags in Charlotte’s rare summertime vote)
Changes could be in store for Rugby Panthers basketball teams if a proposal to divide North Dakota’s two-class team system into three classes.
The Rugby Public School Board reviewed the proposal at its regular monthly meeting Oct. 11.
Rugby High School Athletic Director Scott Grochow presented information and feedback on the plan to place Rugby Panthers basketball teams in a mid-level designation, introducing new competing schools such as Devils Lake and Standing Rock, and moving competitors such as TGU and Harvey-Wells County into a class with smaller schools.
The North Dakota High School Activities Association (NDHSAA) drafted the plan after gathering information from a focus group consisting of representatives from class A and B schools throughout the state.
The new plan would designate larger Class A schools as Class AA. Larger Class B and smaller Class A schools would have a Class A designation, while smaller Class B schools would remain in Class B.
The proposal placed Rugby in the new Class A West Region, along with Standing Rock, Des Lacs-Burlington, Watford City and other schools west of Rugby. Venues for regional competitions include Minot, which board members said was positive information.
Panthers Boys Basketball Coach Mike Santjer and Girls Basketball Coach Jennifer Brossart also attended the meeting to offer feedback.
Grochow noted the new system added fairness to the chances participants have for reaching state competition.
“Our chance to go to state just multiplied” under the new three-class system, which allows for more teams per region to play in state tournaments.
“But,” he added, “To me, is this a good thing or is this a bad thing, I’m not sure either way.”
Grochow said, “There’s a little bit of me that says, ‘I want to try this.’ I want to see what this is like. I want to find out.”
This has been pushed since I was in school,” he added.
The proposal said the NDHSAA plans to roll the system out for the 2023-24 school year.
Grochow and the coaching staff all agreed to try the new system. Grochow said the
The board approved a motion to support the proposal as presented.
In other business, the board heard an update by District Superintendent Mike McNeff on a construction project to expand the Ely Elementary School building and campus.
“We’re making progress,” McNeff said. “The wall should be going up quickly,” he added, referring to an addition that expands the school’s gym wall to the north several feet.
“They currently are putting the bar joists in the gym, so things should start firing up during the month of October,” he said of the construction pace.
McNeff added a citizen’s committee formed to address the project would meet that evening to review a one-page flyer to be mailed to property owners in the district to provide information on the project and explain how a gap of $1.4 million created by inflation in construction costs could be filled by fundraising.
The flyer also provides information for contributing to an account for the project through the North Dakota Community Foundation.
McNeff also gave a monthly report to the board, which included plans to discuss and implement safety recommendations made by first responders after touring the district’s elementary and high school campuses.
He shared information given to him by Dakota College at Bottineau about a new program available to high school students in the Rugby School District to learn about drones.
Other information given to McNeff included news of a program called a Pace lab, available through Peace Garden Special Education Region to teach independent living skills.
He said the district had also hired Rugby resident Jackie Skipper as a tutor to help address learning loss during the COVID pandemic. Skipper would be paid through a federal grant.
The board listened to a presentation by instructional coaches Ashley Seykora and Angela Hager about standards developed by North Dakota teachers for North Dakota students. Both explained how teachers help their students meet standards for skills such as reading and math.
The board also listened to a report on learning outcomes for students in high schools. Data measuring the outcomes showed Rugby High School students continuing a trend begun in 2015 toward ACT test scores consistently above state averages in English, reading, math and science. Overall test data across all learning outcomes measured also placed Rugby High School students in the above average range.
The data also showed 6.52% growth in students designated as “choice-ready,” or having the skills necessary to join the workforce, pursue higher education, or enlist in the military.
A full report is available at https://www.rugby.k12.nd.us/ by clicking the “Our District” tab on the upper left side of the page and then choosing the “ND Insights” link.
In other business, the board accepted a retirement benefits request and letter submitted by Rugby High business instructor Paola Trottier.
Trottier introduced the board to Tambrey Brossart, a member of Rugby High’s Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) chapter. Trottier serves as the club advisor.
Brossart, a freshman, won first place over entrants from all over the United States in the digital citizenship contest held at the National FBLA Convention in Chicago in early July. She had just finished eighth grade.
“There were probably 250 students in a room on laptops taking tests online,” Trottier recalled. “She came out of there, and I asked, ‘How did you do?’ She said, ‘There was one question I didn’t know for sure.’ I got her test results back and she got 49 out of 50.”
“There were probably about 12,000 students competing in all kinds of different events,” Trottier added. “In her event, there were 228 students.”
Trottier described digital citizenship as “a hard Topic to prepare for, because it’s so broad.”
Brossart said she prepared by studying a list of questions about all the syllabus related to digital citizenship. “Some questions, I went into detail researching,” she said.
The board gave Brossart a round of applause.
In other business, the board received updates on a convention for the North Dakota School Board Association set for Oct. 27-28 in Bismarck. Board members also received information on an upcoming evaluation of the district superintendent.
The board approved finances, bills and minutes from its September meeting.
The school board will hold its next regular meeting Nov. 8.
Tom Port is a 68-year-old man who spends his days in an office park outside Los Angeles where he takes it upon himself to determine which records are the best-sounding in the world. This is a task for which he considers himself uniquely qualified. Port is a true audio iconoclast. He delights in telling you that the slab of vinyl you’re listening to isn’t worthy of his ears and the only thing more pathetic is the audio setup you’re using to listen to it.
Port developed his self-proclaimed skills over decades of scouring used LP bins, gathering up multiple copies of the same album and comparing them side by side — listening sessions he calls “shootouts.” That’s what I’m here today to observe. It’s just one stop on my year-long search for the perfect sound, an attempt to take a lifelong passion for music and find out if I’ve really been hearing it.
“The number of copies of ‘Sgt. Pepper’ I’ve played or ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ are well over 100, maybe close to 200, to find the ones that are really good,” Port says. “I want the best, and that’s exactly what should be driving you. You get this very special record. You may have only five of them in your whole collection. But those five are like a drug. They’re just so beyond anything you’ve ever heard, and you just can’t believe it.”
Port believes that records are like snowflakes — no two are the same. So many things can impact the pressing, including room temperature, the split second the stampers are pressed onto the hot, vinyl biscuit, and unknown factors no human can understand. You can’t find the best-sounding record by reading the marketing sticker proclaiming the latest advances in audio technology. The only way is to use your ears. So Port and his staff at Better Records sit for hours in a windowless room, unplug the small refrigerator in the back so as not to get any electrical interference, and simply listen.
Speaker wires hang from the ceiling like renegade strands of linguine so as not to cross and cause feedback. Port sits in a chair on one side of the room, its position marked under each leg with blue electrical tape. Sunshine English, a staffer, sits at a VPI turntable outfitted with a Dynavector cartridge. On the menu today, at my request, is jazz trumpeter Kenny Dorham’s 1959 album “Quiet Kenny.” It’s an elegant album that has become a collector’s item. Original copies in top condition regularly sell for more than $1,500. I don’t have one of those, but I’ve brought three copies with me, all of which claim to be on the cutting edge of new audio technology.
The first is from the Electric Recording Co., based in London, which produces roughly a dozen albums each year on vintage equipment painstakingly restored by owner Pete Hutchison. ERC makes just 300 copies of each reissue and charges $376 per album. The stock sells out immediately. Then the records pop up on eBay for as much as $2,000.
English has agreed not to reveal which copy is being played so the shootout can be truly blind. She lowers the needle onto the ERC edition of “Quiet Kenny.” Port groans loudly. “Listen to that bass,” he says. “Blah, blah, blah, blah. Who wants to play a record that sounds like this?”
Next up is a copy pressed by Analogue Productions, the Kansas-based label founded by Chad Kassem. Port says that Kassem “has never made a single good sounding record” since AP’s founding in 1991. (Kassem calls Port a “f---ing loser.”) This blind listen gets better marks, which surprises Port when he’s told it’s an Analogue.
“That’s the best-sounding Analogue Productions record I’ve ever heard,” Port says. “Because it’s not terrible.”
The third is a test pressing from Tom “Grover” Biery, a former Warner Bros. veteran who is starting a label called Public Domain Recordings. Biery believes records are too expensive and wants to offer a solid-sounding, cheaper alternative to the costly reissues coming out today. Port calls it serviceable but flat. He grumbles that it’s a mono, not a stereo recording.
“It sounds tonally correct,” he says. “But the problem with mono is everybody is in line between me and Sunshine, and they’re all standing one behind the other. Can you really separate out all those musicians when they’re all right in the middle? It’s very difficult. I don’t like it.”
None of these would make the hot stamper cut. (Port defines a hot stamper as a pressing that sounds better than other copies of the same album.) We talk more about ERC and how coveted Hutchison’s records are in the market. He agrees to try song two on the ERC vinyl, but things don’t get better. I suggest that maybe English adjust the arm on the turntable. The vertical tracking angle, or VTA, as he calls it. “Nothing can fix this record,” he shouts back. “It’s junk. And that guy should be ashamed of himself.”
There is something almost charming in Port’s brash refusal to praise anything pressed in the modern era or to consider a digital source. (He won’t even listen to music in his car; the system just can’t compare to that in his shootout room, he says.)
And Port’s take, as rigid as it is, makes a certain amount of sense when you consider the scandal that emerged during the reporting for this story.
Mike Esposito, a Phoenix record store owner and YouTuber, claimed that Mobile Fidelity (MoFi), a reissue record label beloved by analog-only purists, had been misleading its customers and using digital files in the production chain.
The revelation sparked outrage among the label’s devotees and plunged audiophiles into something of an existential crisis. Two customers filed a lawsuit against the Sebastopol, Calif., company after an article was published by The Washington Post.
Experts such as Esposito and Michael Fremer, the dean of audiophile writing, had included some of the now-exposed company’s records on their list of the best-sounding analog albums. Could digital technology have advanced enough to fool even the best of ears?
A trio of acclaimed mastering engineers — Bernie Grundman, Kevin Gray and Ryan K. Smith — told me that an all-analog chain always sounds better than an album with a digital step, but that didn’t seem to settle the debate.
It also brought back an exchange I’d had earlier in the summer with Grammy-winning producer T Bone Burnett. He had spent years working with scientists to create a special record that would capture a recording session in a way a normal LP couldn’t, using materials primarily found in space stations. He recruited Bob Dylan to rerecord his first iconic composition, “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Burnett made only one copy of the record. It would be auctioned by Christie’s only weeks after we met in New York for $1.78 million.
After Burnett played me the song, we talked about the process behind the recording. Burnett told me he captured the session on a restored Nagra tape machine as well as a digital recorder. When it came time to put the song on the disc, he chose the digital recording as his source. I asked him whether he panic about the analog crowd. He was unrepentant.
“There was no noise or tape hiss,” he said. “That’s the way we deemed it was best. I don’t have to apologize for it. It’s a great recording.”
Which may lead to the biggest lesson of my quest. Don’t pretend to know everything.
Everybody has that first song they become obsessed with. I was 9 years old when I walked into the Chestnut Hill Mall and bought my first tape, the self-titled debut from the new wave hitmakers, the Cars. I still remember the incredible, distorted crunch of “Good Times Roll” on my rectangular RadioShack tape machine. By 1981, I’d moved on to a Sony Walkman and a couple years later got my first record player. That Panasonic all-in-one could handle LPs, cassettes and tune in to Casey Kasem’s “American Top 40.” By the late ’80s, I had fallen in love with CDs, and a decade later immediately embraced online music. I loved Napster, packed with bootlegs from my favorite artists, and stuffed each successive iPod with as many songs as the hard drive would allow. I never stopped to consider how listening habits changed. I just consumed.
But one day my iPod classic’s battery failed. Instead of trying to resurrect my digital library, I began to move back into records. In 2011, I bought a used Dual 1219 turntable for $150 and restarted the record collection I’d stupidly downsized. I knew very little about which albums to buy and gobbled up $16 reissues from labels like WaxTime and Simply Vinyl. And I never bought old, used records. I believed those hype stickers on the plastic wrap pushing the qualities (180-gram, half-speed remaster!) of the latest pressings. That new record had to be the best ever.
It wasn’t until last year that I began to reassess my own collecting strategy. I also started to notice a shift in the vinyl landscape. So many record reissues were delayed. I asked several artists and publicists why. They told me records weren’t just more popular than at any point in the last few decades, they were selling so well that the biggest entertainment conglomerates — Universal, Sony, Warner Bros. — could not press them fast enough to meet demand.
“My own group can’t even celebrate milestones,” Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson grumbled when I asked about the anniversary of the Roots’ 1996 record “Illadelph Halflife.” “There are but so many pressing plants in the world, and they’re backed up for, like, months.”
The history of recorded sound is largely about progression and abandonment, from Edison’s wax cylinders to shellac 78 rpm records; from vinyl LPs, 8-tracks and cassettes to the compact disc. It was in 1985 that Joseph McLellan, right here in The Post, declared the LP all but dead.
“CDs sound excellent on the average home system, and they continue to sound good, unlike LPs and even tapes no matter how many times you play them,” he wrote. “By 1990, perhaps sooner, CD will be the standard format for recorded music.”
By 2000, CDs had peaked, with global sales of more than 13 billion. More than 2.4 million copies of ’N Sync’s “No Strings Attached” were sold in its first week on sale; only 1 million vinyl albums were sold the entire year. But by 2020, the shiny discs themselves had been declared all but dead as streaming services took hold. This summer, Spotify announced its total monthly users had climbed to 433 million.
But the numbers weren’t what I was after. My search was about sound.
Perfect sound. What is it exactly? You can measure it, reducing it to frequencies and amplitudes, or you can recognize it as something else. The way your room is set up. Your mood. What you expect and what you’re used to. When I told David Byrne, the author, artist and former Talking Heads frontman about my quest, he told me that nothing compared to that time, as a teenager, he heard Jimi Hendrix on his transistor radio.
“Phones sound better than those things and yet it was a life-changing experience,” he said. “Even crappy sound can be life-changing and can actually move people emotionally and socially.”
By then, I had already visited Jonathan Weiss’s showroom in Brooklyn and listened to records on his $363,000 K3 turntable — a machine built with parts found in the U.S. military’s anti-ballistic missile defense systems, he says. The system played through speakers that stood taller than seven feet; the same set was recently installed for Tom Cruise.
Weiss is both prickly and philosophical. In this space, he’s hosted listening parties for everyone from Blondie to Alicia Keys. He snickered at the idea of my search but not my desire to hear music through those massive speakers.
“There is no such thing as perfect sound,” he says. “But how do you explain what this sound is? It’s like Buddhism, where any real truth, you have to actually experience it somehow. Get a taste of it. Otherwise, you don’t know.”
Talking to musicians about the subject can lead to very different opinions. Chuck D, the rap legend whose booming voice has always defined Public Enemy’s thick productions, didn’t seem impressed when I told him I got chills when I heard Louis Armstrong’s “St. James Infirmary” on Weiss’s towering system. He seemed more focused on how I listened: from a specific chair, marked out and measured on the floor, to provide the best possible sonic experience. What I described, he said, sounded like nothing more than a glorified man cave.
“What do you want to do with the sound?” Chuck said. “That’s the biggest question. Like, I want to dance with it. Are you going to sit? Are you going to respond or just chill out and go to sleep? You want to multitask? Oh, I got the perfect sound. Perfect sound for what?”
Neil Young, meanwhile, has long been obsessed with chasing great sound. For years, he’s called out purveyors of low-resolution audio — whether MP3 or Spotify — and tried to upgrade what we stream and download. He also works hard on reissues to use tapes whenever he can, aspiring to an all-analog chain.
He told me about his first encounter with digital technologies in the recording studio.
It was the late 1980s, and Young was in the studio with his longtime collaborators, Crazy Horse, working on what would become the electric classic, “Ragged Glory.” He was excited about the convenience of the newfound technology, which would allow him to cut tracks on a computer. Then he listened to the playback from the first sessions. The digital files were a disaster.
“It hurt my ears,” he says. “Like being hit with a machine gun of ice cubes.”
Years later, Young would stick to tape while also keeping up to date with technology. He even tried his hand at a short-lived high resolution portable music player. (RIP, Pono.) He created an online store packed with high-res files. That didn’t mean he was willing to concede to digital when a preserved analog tape was available.
He explained the difference. “If you’re at Mount Shasta and you see it reflecting in the lake, that is a classic shot,” Young says. “The water is totally still, it’s perfect. But if you took the same thing and took a digital picture of it, it’s a bunch of average squares. The variety is the universality of the sound. All is destroyed.”
CDs were not a crime against sonic nature. Their success as a product did lead to major shifts, though. Suddenly, the technologists, not the music geeks, were in charge. They focused on psychoacoustics, a field that embraces the idea that our ears can mask deficiencies in a recording. What we hear isn’t merely what’s presented but how we interpret it.
A century ago, Thomas Edison’s “tone tests” tapped into this concept. The inventor hosted several recitals to prove the quality of his Diamond Disc records. If you have ever listened to one of those records or a 78, the idea of mistaking it for the real thing — a live singer or performer — would seem absurd. But Edison’s recitals placed a performer and a machine on a darkened stage and accounts stated that the audience could not distinguish the two.
“And you go, wait a minute, we know what these old things sound like,” says Byrne, who wrote about the tests in his book “How Music Works.” “How could people be fooled by this? I think this goes to show that we hear — not just hear but perceive — what we want to perceive. People have seen UFOs and, in the Victorian era, saw fairies. I’m not going to debate whether UFOs are real or not, but there are a lot of things through history that people have heard and seen that are completely imaginary. And sound is like that.”
Which brings us to the lowest point on the sound ladder: the MP3.
The psycho-acousticians knew they could take an original master and throw away enough material to fit it onto portable devices. What was lost in sound quality could be masked by the human ear. The pleasure would come from the portability.
“So that whole experience of MP3 and other types of compressed audio is what a whole generation born in the ’90s and 2000s grew up with,” says Marc Finer, who was enlisted by Sony to serve as a kind of ambassador for CDs in the 1980s.
In other words, an entire generation learned to embrace the portability and convenience of music at the expense of the sound. And really, who could blame them?
Napster’s arrival opened the floodgates for the “everything should be free” generation and blew up the music industry.
Executives, still drunk on CD revenue, had no idea how to respond to the free flow of sound. They tried to fight the rebels rather than cut deals with them.
“They were slow in so many ways,” says Hilary Rosen, CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America from 1998 to 2003. “There was always this view in the music business that there was nothing a good hit couldn’t fix. And they held on to that notion for six years too long.”
Early this year, Apple ended the iPod era after 21 years and 450 million sold. The death of the digital music player inspired several nostalgic articles, but for me and most others, it had been so long since I’d used my last iPod. By now, I was well into streaming and, specifically, trying to experience high-resolution audio. As I explored, I needed a way to listen to those high-res files. The iPhone’s space-saving sound chip wouldn’t work. I needed a digital-to-analog converter, or DAC, I could plug into my system.
These machines take the math exercise that is a digital signal and turn it into the continuous wave that is analog. Tony Stott, the head of product marketing for the London-based Cambridge Audio, suggested I pick up a CXN V2 DAC (retail $1,299). Then I told him about the larger quest I was on. And how I’d been mocked by Port and some of the other audio guys. They said my search was hopeless, that my system could never sound good enough because I wasn’t willing to clear out enough space for suitably sized speakers.
“What can sometimes happen is that some of the joy of the music is overtaken by the joy of building a system,” Stott said. “But listening to good-quality audio is a bit like owning a Formula One team. It will cost you a million pounds to get around the track in two minutes. It will cost you 10 million pounds to get around the track in a second under two minutes.”
Stott also cautioned me that it wasn’t enough to get a DAC. I also needed to consider the source.
“Rubbish in, rubbish out,” he said. “Not to say that Spotify is rubbish, it has its place, is brilliantly convenient and it’s wonderful for on-the-go in the car, but when you start taking a high-resolution file and feed it into a good digital-to-analog converter, there’s a big lift.”
For me, that lift would be Qobuz, a digital music service founded in France in 2007 and still a very small fraction the size to Spotify.
“In the U.S., we have seven people. Not seven people at the front desk,” says managing director Dan Mackta of his workforce. “Seven people.”
Mackta won’t tell you how many people subscribe to Qobuz. (That number is also but a very small fraction of Spotify’s users.) But for almost a year, I’ve been one of them. There are limitations — no podcasts, for example — which is why I pay $14.99 a month for Qobuz but still subscribe to Spotify.
You don’t need to understand bit rates to get why I’m paying for both services. Just put on the same track — say, the Rolling Stones’ apocalyptic anthem “Gimme Shelter” — on Qobuz and Spotify and you’ll hear a clear difference.
For all its limitations, digital is mostly a known quantity. If you listen to enough new records, you’ll realize why Tom Port’s business is thriving. Old records in excellent condition can cost hundreds. New pressings are miss as much as hit. Some of them are warm and dynamic, others are dull and muddy. There’s no way to know what you’re getting until you throw down $40, rip open the plastic and put that new disc on your turntable. Why does a Hank Mobley reissue mastered by Kevin Gray sound so good when a Chet Baker reissue by the same engineer falls flat?
“That’s one of the big problems with vinyl,” says Bernie Grundman, the 78-year-old mastering engineer whose lengthy career has included working on Carole King’s “Tapestry,” Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” and who now oversees a company booming with reissue jobs. “When we started getting back into vinyl in a big way, I said, ‘Okay, now we’re ready for a lot of headaches.’ ”
Sometimes, the record company won’t deliver the original master tape and he’s stuck with a digital file (the 25th anniversary reissue of the “Buena Vista Social Club”). Sometimes the original tape is damaged (Sonny Rollins’s “Newk’s Time”) and he has to tirelessly patch together sections from old CDs. Then there are the production chain woes.
A great record is always going to sound better than its digital counterpart, but, Grundman says, “to get a really great record is next to impossible.”
It’s 4:50 a.m. in Taipei, Taiwan, and Danny Lin is waking up to the sound 0f his iPhone alarm. He is 49 and the vice president of an internet browser company, and he lives with his wife and two children in a condo. He also really wants a copy of Yusef Lateef’s “Eastern Sounds.”
An original copy of the saxophonist’s 1961 album will cost hundreds. But Craft Recordings is putting out a special reissue for $100 as part of its “small batch” series. Grundman has mastered this reissue, and it’s also a “one-step,” meaning parts of the production process usually used in the making of a record are eliminated. This is supposed to make the Craft record sound closer than ever to the original session tapes.
Lin places the record in his cart and enters his credit card information, but poof, the album is no longer there when he tries to finalize the transaction. Sold out. He tries again, with no luck. All 1,000 copies are already gone. Or rather, they’re just available somewhere else now. He checks eBay where he already sees multiple listings for the Lateef record on the auction site, most in the $500 range. Another victory for the flippers.
“That price is crazy,” says Lin. “I’m never going to trust Craft again.”
I know how he feels. Because there is at least one other person who has clicked through and struck out the same way. Me. This is a long way from the ’80s, when I could gobble up used copies of Howlin’ Wolf or the Pretenders for $8.
But then, as CDs grew more popular, the record industry morphed. Pressing machines were destroyed, record plants converted. The only problem is that records didn’t die. They just went into hibernation. And then, when they came back, the infrastructure that enabled record companies to press as many as 350 million records a year during the “Hotel California” era was gone.
“I think about it all the time,” says Josh Bizar, vice president of Music Direct, MoFi’s parent company. “How did Led Zeppelin make 4 million copies to introduce their albums to the world when we have trouble making 5,000 of anything?”
The “Eastern Sounds” reissue followed the familiar game plan in this new soundscape. Put out something old and special. Package it in a beautiful box. And promise, through a technical explanation that’s beyond the understanding of most civilians, that this album is “as close as the listener can get to the original recording.”
Then sit back. Craft, for its part, says it made an honest mistake in one part of the process and by the time its next release came out, a reissue of Miles Davis’s “Relaxin’,” pressings were increased from 1,000 to 5,000 copies.
“We really didn’t anticipate it to sell out as quickly as it did,” says Mark Piro, who is a director of artists and repertoire for Craft Recordings, the catalogue division of Concord. “We don’t want people to be left out. That’s not our goal.”
The vinyl boom can be charted pretty easily. In 2008, Radiohead had the No. 1 record on the vinyl charts. “In Rainbows” sold 25,000 copies. That wouldn’t even land in the top 100 of 2021. Just last year, new albums from Adele, Olivia Rodrigo and Taylor Swift sold more than 250,000 vinyl copies each. Then there’s the thriving market of reissues, which range from the slew of sealed records pumped out by major labels to the more particular releases aimed at audiophiles from companies such as Analogue Productions and Intervention Records.
Everybody faces the same challenge. Massive demand, limited supply.
“Physics dictate how many records you can make,” says Billy Fields, who leads commercial vinyl strategy at the Warner Music Group. “It takes basically half a minute to make a record. And then you just back out from there. How many presses do you have working? How many shifts are those presses operating? How efficient are those presses? How many records basically is every press putting out every single day that it’s in operation? And what’s the grand total of that?”
He actually has a number: 170 million records. That’s how many Fields says can be pressed in the world each year. To keep up with demand, the industry would need to produce 350 million. That accounts for indie releases, Beatles and Stones reissues, the latest from Harry Styles. They are for audiophiles with $20,000 turntables in special listening rooms and kids with portable Crosleys. All of a sudden, these records are for everyone.
It wasn’t easy to find Brittany Benton. There are no signs for her pop-up record store, a space found in an industrial building in St. Clair Superior, an east Cleveland neighborhood that’s peppered with vacant homes. I drove around the building twice, parked in a dusty lot and stopped somebody walking to her car with an Ari Lennox record under her arm. Elise Burnett Boyd pointed me down the lot to Dock 5, to a door propped open with a cinder block.
“Just follow the music,” she said.
I could hear the groove of Hall and Oates’s “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” and, at the end of a hallway, spotted Benton, 35, wearing a brown hoodie and sitting against the wall as she priced out records.
Benton sold records online through the pandemic, but these days, she’s renting a 25-by-25 section of floor in this 120-year-old factory building for $300 a month. I’m coming to see her because she’s not obsessed with rare pressings and $100 reissues. She’s just selling records.
It also happens to be Record Store Day, which was created in 2007 to gin up excitement around vinyl but has morphed into a flipper’s dream, with dozens of limited editions produced just for this event. Signs or no, by 11 a.m. Benton has had enough business already to earn back her rent. She’s also filled the space with sound. She has a DJ on-site and talks about abiding by the guidelines of the now 14-year-old vinyl holiday. She knows she could make more by putting the limited-edition RSD albums on eBay. She also knows that would be bad form.
“It’s not a record store’s right to be in Record Store Day so much as it’s a privilege,” Benton says. “And if we’re taking part, it’s almost like a pledge that we will respect things. I’m not going to take an album that didn’t sell well and sell it on eBay the next day for 10 times the price. That discourages the everyday person coming in who wants to have access to these records. I’m not trying to hawk or shark records.”
She’s trying to build a community.
Tony Tanori, a 50-year-old bank analyst who had all but abandoned records during the CD era, picks up a stack. He got back into records after a friend told him about a vinyl club that meets once a week at the Winchester Music Tavern in nearby Lakewood, Ohio. He might bring his Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Another guy might throw the Stanley Brothers on the table.
“There is nothing like putting a needle to a vinyl record,” he says.
Over the last year, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve also spent a lot. I replaced my 1970s-era Pioneer SX-737 receiver with a vintage McIntosh 1900 and then sold that to buy a tube amplifier built by Rogue Audio. I turned a restored Thorens TD 125 — and about $2,500 — into a Technics SP-10. I gave my son my Bose speakers and tried Harbeths and then settled on Focal Aria 906s. I’d never invested so much in a stereo, and it sounded excellent to me. Still, when I referenced virtually any element of it to my audiophile sources, they made it clear I had not gone far enough.
Which made me think of something I heard from Andy Zax, the music historian and producer.
We are, he wrote during an email exchange, prisoners of our own expectations. So focused on FOMO and equipment and who says what on which message board that we lose sight of the most important question: How do we have an enjoyable listening experience?
Which brings me back almost to where I started: Michael Fremer.
Things had not gone well between us. For almost a year, the pioneering audiophile writer and I had gotten along swimmingly as we chatted about gear and recordings. He had generously offered me insight and sources. Then I wrote about the MoFi scandal and Mike Esposito, which infuriated Fremer. Those two had been feuding online for months, and the MoFi situation only exacerbated their conflict. Fremer slammed Esposito for spreading a rumor before he could confirm it and then, after the rumor proved correct and the record store owner went to MoFi’s headquarters to talk with the company’s engineers, Fremer took to YouTube to criticize his interviewing skills, calling him a “fanboy” who got “rolled over.” After my MoFi story published, Fremer was furious with me. He peppered me with angry text messages, made a 10-minute YouTube video retort to my piece and called me a liar online.
Fremer, who is 75, has a long history with music, dating back to his time during the 1970s at WBCN, the powerful Boston radio station. He worked as music supervisor of the movie “Tron,” in 1982 and shortly after, focused on writing about audio and specifically fighting for the superiority of vinyl as a format. He was a crucial component of this story, but he wanted nothing to do with me.
“He was one of the only ones waving the analog flag in the cold, sterile digital day,” Chad Kassem told me. “I’ll work on him.”
The next day, a text arrived.
“The only way to move forward is for you to do what I’ve been asking you to do for it seems like years: visit and spend most of a day listening to records here,” Fremer wrote.
So on a Thursday in August, I drove four hours from Boston to the white Colonial Fremer shares with his wife, Sharon, just outside of Newark. Fremer warmly shook my hand and ushered me downstairs.
“This is not an audio salon,” he said as we got settled. “This is a workspace.”
The basement is cramped, packed with records and Fremer’s equipment, which includes Wilson XVX speakers (retail: $329,000) and the turntable he has decided will be his last, a prototype of Weiss’s K3.
I realized quickly that Fremer wasn’t going to mention our conflict. He sat me in a comfortable chair in the center of the room as he pulled out the British pressing of “Rubber Soul” that he bought when he was 19. It’s hard to not to be impressed by the harmonies, Ringo’s snare and Paul’s snaky bass when you’re in front of those $300,000 Wilsons. We listened to an Electric Recording Co. issue of Thelonious Monk’s “Brilliant Corners.” Fremer offered high praise for Hutchison’s work. He also showed me how many inconsistencies this system could expose. He played “In My Room” off a 2015 reissue by Analogue Productions to slam a version released earlier this year by Capitol Records.
“This is an inept mix,” he said of the newer release. “Like mush on the bottom and then there’s that horrible ssss on top.”
Fremer wanted to focus on MoFi records to show me what he considered the label’s bad sound formula. I wanted to know what it was about my article that upset him so much.
What bothered him most, he said, was that I wrote that MoFi’s secret would not have been revealed without Esposito.
“It would have taken longer, but I was on the case,” Fremer said. “I would have gotten to the bottom of it. That’s what I do.”
Whatever his approach and temperament, when you sit with Fremer listening to music, it’s clear what drives him. He wants to sit in a room as you listen to his favorites — an acetate of the Who’s “Tommy,” a Weavers performance, the British pressing of Elvis Costello’s “Imperial Bedroom” — and luxuriate in the sonic beauty.
“Do you think there is a perfect sound?” I asked as he searched through a pile of records.
He shook his head.
“There are some incredibly great records,” he said. “Great recordings. Perfect? I don’t know what that means, even.”
I reminded him of when we met for the first time. In June, T Bone Burnett threw a listening party in New York City for that special, one-of-a-kind Bob Dylan rerecording of “Blowin’ in the Wind” he was auctioning. I had wondered if there, in that studio, we might find that perfect sound. An idea that Burnett quickly dismissed.
That got Fremer excited. He jumped into the stacks and pulled out a Japanese pressing of a record of the 1963 Newport Folk Festival. It features Dylan doing the same song with backing from Joan Baez, the Freedom Singers, Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul and Mary.
“Just sit back and relax,” Fremer told me. “Close your eyes, and let the space envelop you.”
Two microphones captured that live performance. The lone instrument was Dylan’s acoustic guitar. The record wasn’t cut at half-speed or on clarity vinyl. It wasn’t part of a limited reissue released at midnight. It was an ordinary record in every way except for what came out of the speakers. You could close your eyes, hear Baez’s voice rising behind Dylan, and have something, perfect or imperfect, you wanted to hear again and again.
Writing by Geoff Edgers. Research by Alice Crites and Magda Jean-Louis. Design and development by Joanne Lee. Photo editing by Moira Haney. Video by James Cornsilk and CJ Russo and production by Angela M. Hill. Audio production by Bishop Sand. Editing by David Malitz. Copy editing by Angela Mecca. Project editing by Steven Johnson.
‘A MAJOR DEFEAT’: Ukraine’s better-equipped and highly motivated troops are enjoying “stunning success” and achieving “key strategic” objectives on three fronts in their counteroffensive to expel Russian troops from their sovereign territory, a senior Pentagon official said Monday.
The rout of Russian forces in the northern Kharkiv province, the capture of the logistics hub of Lyman in the east, and the breakthrough of Russian lines in the Kherson region in the south have vastly improved Ukraine’s prospects as winter approaches, said Celeste Wallander, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event.
“Ukraine's goal is to push back the Russian bridgehead on the Russian bank of the Dnieper in Kherson, and that will be both a major defeat for Russia,” said Wallander. “It pushes back even more Russia’s ambition to take Odesa, which was one of the stated objectives earlier this year. It becomes that much harder, and it gives Ukraine a much better defensive position to ride out what probably will be a tamping down of the hot fighting over the winter.”
“So Ukraine seems to be on track to achieve all three of those objectives right now,” she said.
‘IN A DEFENSIVE CROUCH’: Wallander’s assessment came as a senior military official told reporters at the Pentagon that there was little sign on the battlefield of the reinforcements called up in Russian President Vladimir Putin's widely unpopular mobilization and said it appears Russian troops who abandoned Lyman are being pushed east in the face of a continued Ukrainian advance.
“After Russian forces ceded that territory, it's our assessment that many of these Russian forces have moved back toward Kreminna, which is east of Lyman, and are likely prioritizing that location to hold the line and robust further Ukrainian advances,” said the official, who called the liberation of Lyman a “significant operational accomplishment.”
“We have not seen a large-scale reinforcement of forces at this stage. In terms of whether or not any of the newly mobilized forces have moved into Ukraine, all I would say at this stage is not in a large scale,” said the official, who noted Russian offensive operations appear to have stalled. “Near Bakhmut, we see heavy fighting continuing as Russian forces have tried to push west, but no significant shifts on the ground have occurred as Ukrainian forces continue to hold the line there.”
As for Ukraine's southern counteroffensive aimed at retaking Kherson, the official said Russian forces there are facing supply challenges and “essentially are in a defensive crouch,” calling the overall picture “a very dynamic battlefield.”
PENTAGON HAS NOT SEEN ‘LARGE-SCALE REINFORCEMENT’ OF RUSSIAN FORCES
ISW: ELITE RUSSIAN FORCES ‘INCREASINGLY DEGRADED’: The daily battlefield assessment from the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War concluded that “Ukrainian forces continued to make substantial gains around Lyman and in Kherson Oblast in the last 48 hours” and “are continuing to push east of Lyman and may have broken through the Luhansk Oblast border in the direction of Kreminna.”
“As ISW has previously reported, the Russian groupings in northern Kherson Oblast and on the Lyman front were largely comprised of units that had been regarded as among Russia’s premier conventional fighting forces before the war,” the assessment said.“Their apparent failures to hold territory against major Ukrainian counteroffensive actions is consistent with ISW’s previous assessment that even the most elite Russian military forces are becoming increasingly degraded as the war continues. “
“Today, the offensive movement of our army and all our defenders continued. There are new liberated settlements in several regions,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in his nightly video address.
“Fierce fighting continues in many areas of the front. But the perspective of these hostilities remains obvious — more and more occupiers are trying to escape, more and more losses are being inflicted on the enemy army, and there is a growing understanding that Russia made a mistake by starting a war against Ukraine,” Zelensky said.
“Among the dead occupiers, we can already see those who were taken just a week or two ago. People were not trained for combat. They have no experience to fight in such a war. But the Russian command just needs some people, any kind, to replace the dead,” he said. “This is how Russia fights. That's how it will lose as well.”
RUSSIA RETREATS FROM LYMAN AS UKRAINIAN OFFENSIVE CONTINUES TO PUSH FORWARD
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HAPPENING TODAY: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin meets with Pakistan’s chief of the army staff, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, at the Pentagon at 2:30 p.m.
NORTH KOREA’S LATEST MISSILE LAUNCH: In Japan today, warning sirens blared as a North Korean intermediate-range ballistic missile soared over the northern tip of the nation for the first time in five years.
North Korea has ramped up its missile tests over exact months, firing off more than a half dozen short-range ballistic missiles since Sept. 24. But today’s launch of an intermediate-range missile, which can travel up to 2,800 miles, could in theory reach the U.S. territory of Guam.
The provocative test prompted late-night calls from White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan to his Japanese and South Korean counterparts.
“The United States strongly condemns the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) dangerous and reckless decision to launch a long-range ballistic missile over Japan. This action is destabilizing and shows the DPRK’s blatant disregard for United Nations Security Council resolutions and international safety norms,” said National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson in a statement.
“The United States will continue its efforts to limit the DPRK’s ability to advance its prohibited ballistic missile and weapons of mass destruction programs, including with allies and U.N. partners,” the statement said.
ATACMS VS GMLRS: The debate over Ukraine’s need for longer-range weapons to press its advantage over retreating Russian forces has heated up in the wake of a report from CNN’s Alex Marquardt that Ukraine has offered to give the U.S. approval authority over the targets it would strike to ensure the weapons don’t end in Russian territory.
On CNN yesterday, retired Gen. Wes Clark, former NATO commander, pleaded with the Biden administration to stop worrying about provoking Russia and send the long-range Lockheed Martin ATACMS missiles that can be fired from the 18 HIMARS launchers already provided to Ukraine.
“As far as Putin is concerned, we are directly involved, so we're playing a game with our own population here,” Clark said. “The Russians say it's World War III against us and against NATO, so we're only fooling ourselves.”
“I'm going to tell you, we need those ATACMS in there. The president so far has said no, but we need the Switchblade 600s [kamikaze drones by AeroVironment], and they're being held up and had been held up for six months in various bureaucratic snafus inside the administration.” Clark said. “Those killer drones that we're going to put in there are critical. They can do some of the same things that the ATACMS can do, not as far, but they're very effective going across the lines. … So I hope we're going to accelerate and expedite what we're providing to the Ukrainians. They've got momentum — this is the time to do it.”
The counterargument was made later on CNN by retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, like Clark a CNN military analyst, who argued that the shorter-range GMLRS rockets, which can be fired six at a time, actually give Ukraine “more bang for the buck” and are what the Ukrainian forces need for the “close fight” they are in now.
“Let's do more math. There are 18 U.S. HIMARS inside of Ukraine that we have given them. You can either shoot six of them very precisely at 50-plus miles, and each carries a 200-pound warhead to hit a target, or you can fire one ATACM, with a 500-pound warhead, that goes about 150 miles [for] one target,” argued Hertling. “So you're trading six for one.”
“They're fighting the enemy from within 10 to 50 miles out. So the determination has been made by the Department of Defense that's what they need right now,” he said.
Hertling explained his thinking in a Twitter thread a few weeks ago.
MUSK STEPS IN IT: Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk decided to conduct his own referendum on Twitter about whether the Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine should join Russia, and it drew an epic blowback on Twitter.
In a Twitter poll, Musk asked his followers to vote yes or no on his Ukraine-Russia peace plan, which was: “Redo elections of annexed regions under UN supervision. Russia leaves if that is will of the people.”
Musk is apparently unaware that many of the people who live in those regions had to flee the Russian invasion or that invading a sovereign country to stage coerced referendums to seize territory is a violation of international law or that Ukrainians overwhelmingly voted for independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
The poll was widely derided as clueless on Twitter, with the most trenchant rebuke coming from Andrij Melnyk, the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany. “F*** off is my very diplomatic reply to you,” he tweeted.
UKRAINIAN DIPLOMAT TELLS ELON MUSK TO 'F*** OFF' OVER PEACE DEAL PROPOSAL
NO PANDEMIC? WHY MANDATE? Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee have some pointed questions for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin about the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate if, as President Joe Biden said on 60 Minutes, "the pandemic is over.”
In a letter to Austin, the lawmakers are asking for:
The letter comes after Biden’s declaration that the “pandemic is over” and follows concerns raised in a June 2, 2022, memorandum by the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General on denials of religious accommodation requests for the COVID-19 vaccine, said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), lead Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, in a press release.
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TUESDAY | OCTOBER 4
10 a.m. 775 Massachusetts Ave. N.W. — Brookings Institution discussion: “Will China's strongman become even stronger? What the 20th Party Congress means for the United States,” with Thomas Friedman, op-ed columnist at the New York Times; Cheng Li, director of the Brookings Institution China Center; and Suzanne Maloney, vice president, Brookings Institution https://www.brookings.edu/events/will-chinas-strongman-become-even-stronger
1 p.m. — New Democrat Network virtual discussion: “The nature of America's current conflict with Russia," with David Rothkopf, co-founder and CEO of the Rothkopf Group https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register
1 p.m. — Government Executive Media Group virtual discussion: “Winning on Readiness: Strategic Playbook for Digital Transformation," with Air Force CIO and Deputy Director for Plans and Integration Jason Howe; Space Force Deputy Chief of Space Operations for Human Capital Katharine Kelley; Viral Chawda, principal federal technology consulting leader at KPMG; and Patricia St. George, lead account partner for the Air Force at KPMG https://events.govexec.com/winning-on-readiness
2:30 p.m. Pentagon River Entrance — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin welcomes Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan's chief of the army staff to the Pentagon
3 p.m. — U.S. Institute of Peace Twitter Space discussion: “What Comes Next for Russia, Ukraine, and Europe's Peace and Security," with Angela Stent, nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; and Mary Glantz, senior adviser at the USIP Russia and Europe Center https://www.usip.org/events/twitter-space-what-comes-next
8 p.m. EDT Yorba Linda, California — “The Nixon Seminar on National Security and Conservative Realism,” with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former national security adviser Robert O’Brien. Livestream at https://www.youtube.com/watch
WEDNESDAY | OCTOBER 5
8 a.m. 1910 Oracle Way, Reston, Virginia — Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association discussion: with Kimberly Buehler, director of the Army Office of Small Business Programs https://afceanova.swoogo.com/OCT22SBB
12 p.m. — Center for Strategic and International Studies virtual discussion: "NAFO (North Atlantic Fellas Organization) and Winning the Information War: Lessons Learned from Ukraine," with Matt Moores, co-founder of NAFO; and Iuliia Mendel, Ukrainian journalist https://www.csis.org/events/nafo-and-winning-information-war-lessons-learned-ukraine
12 p.m. — Hudson Institute virtual book discussion: The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD (mutually assured destruction): How Massive Attacks of Disruption Became the Looming Existential Danger to a Divided Nation and the World at Large, with author Harlan Ullman, senior adviser at the Atlantic Council; Susan Eisenhower, president of the Eisenhower Group; Dov Zakheim, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani, director for South and Central Asia at Hudson https://www.hudson.org/events/2163-the-fifth-horseman
THURSDAY | OCTOBER 6
9 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave, N.W. — Center for Strategic and International Studies discussion: on "The Implementation Plan for the Army Climate Strategy," with Principal Deputy Assistant Army Secretary for Installations, Energy, and Environment Paul Farnan and former Assistant Defense Secretary for Operational Energy Plans and Programs Sharon Burke https://www.csis.org/events/launch-army-climate-implementation-plan
11 a.m. 2121 K St. N.W. — International Institute for Strategic Studies discussion: on "Ukraine: Back to the Future (of Warfare)?" with former Defense Undersecretary for Policy Michele Flournoy, co-founder and managing partner of WestExec Advisors; Ukrainian Maj. Gen. Borys Kremenetskyi, defense attache at the Embassy of Ukraine; Lawrence Rubin, associate fellow at IISS; and Franz-Stefan Gady, senior fellow at IISS https://www.iiss.org/events/2022/10/ukraine-back-to-the-future-of-warfare
1 p.m. — Atlantic Council virtual Forward Defense Forum: “How Can We Deter China in the 2020s?” with former Defense Undersecretary for Policy Michele Flournoy, co-founder and managing partner at WestExec Advisors; and Tim Cahill, senior vice president for global business development and strategy at Lockheed Martin https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/event/how-can-we-deter-china-in-the-2020s/
FRIDAY | OCTOBER 7
2 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. N.W. — Center for Strategic and International Studies discussion: “The current state of affairs in Afghanistan," with Fawzia Koofi, Afghan parliamentary lawmaker https://www.csis.org/events/armchair-discussion:-fawzia-koofi
TUESDAY | OCTOBER 11
TBA — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg news conference ahead of NATO Defense Ministerial. https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news
WEDNESDAY | OCTOBER 12
TBA NATO Headquarters, Brussels — NATO Defense Ministers, including U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, meet over two days at NATO Headquarters in Brussels. A separate meeting of the Ukraine Contact Group, hosted by the U.S., will take also take place. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is scheduled to conduct a news conference at the end of each day. https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news
“F*** off is my very diplomatic reply to you.”
Andrij Melnyk, the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, in response to Telsa CEO Elon Musk’s tweet suggesting a redo of the Russian referendums under U.N. supervision
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Tags: National Security, Daily on Defense
Original Author: Jamie McIntyre
Original Location: Ukraine poised to deliver ‘major defeat’ to Russian forces in the south as it continues to break through Russian lines