Denver Public Schools is bugging out over vermin

As if Denver Public Schools doesn't have enough problems (overcrowding, charter-school debates and duct-taping elementary-school secretaries chief among them), it's also battling an even more troubling scourge: pasta-based art projects. That's right, those seemingly harmless macaroni noodles that kids glue to paper in what few DPS art classes remain are attracting mice, roaches and other vermin. And that's not all. Pests are apparently attacking moldy sack lunches, open sodas left in lockers and the pet food belonging to class mascots, such as guinea pigs and parakeets, brought in by teachers.

To fight back, DPS has teamed up with Colorado State University's Denver extension program on a pilot program to defeat the beasts without increasing pesticide exposure for students, teachers, parents and other employees. So far, CSU employees have inspected three schools — Polaris at Ebert Elementary, Merrill Middle School and East High — looking for places that bugs and rodents might hang out. "We're trying to look at this with fresh eyes to identify ways that pests could be thwarted," says CSU horticulturalist Carl Wilson. "Maintenance people themselves can't make a dent in this kind of a situation if kids are leaving food hither and yon."

The program has had some success at Ebert, where a large number of class bunnies and snakes and birds had created "a pretty bad problem," says Matt Smidt, DPS's pest-management supervisor. Although they didn't find the same issues at Merrill and East, Smidt says the teachers and staff at those schools are so busy that he hasn't been able to schedule any further training with them. But then, he's been busy, too: DPS is also battling head lice and bedbugs. And it didn't help when one after-school program supervisor brought in a salvaged couch from an alley, only to discover that the couch was already inhabited.

Plane talk: Airline travel stories don't leave most of us singing a happy tune (in fact, Westword held a contest called "How United Airlines Ruined My Summer Vacation" in August 2000 that still attracts horrific tales). But Canadian musician Dave Carroll managed to turn his 2008 adventure into a major career booster when he wrote a song titled "United Breaks Guitars," about how the airline, yes, broke his guitar. The song became a YouTube sensation, and Carroll began speaking about the event at business seminars. And then, lo and behold, on his way through Denver International Airport last month to one of those seminars in Colorado Springs, United managed to lose Carroll's luggage (after no doubt charging him $15 for the honor). "I guess the smart thing to do would be to avoid United," Carroll told the Los Angeles Times. But then again, the paper pointed out, every United flight is another chance for further fame and fortune.

Just imagine what Carroll could do with a snowy Christmas Eve at DIA.

As for ground transportation, RTD likes to remind people that they authorized the construction now clogging the metro area back in 2004, when voters approved the FasTracks initiative, which paved the way for billions of dollars' worth of new bus and light-rail lines. And so RTD's current ad campaign, "FasTracks at Work," highlights ongoing and upcoming projects. "Every year, we do a public education campaign where we try to help the public understand where we are with FasTracks and the progress that has been made," says spokeswoman Pauletta Tonilas. The campaign currently highlights work in the U.S. 36 Corridor, the Elati Street light-rail maintenance facility and at Denver's Union Station, which is supposed to become a massive transportation hub.

But since the Union Station transformation, already delayed, is in danger of disappearing altogether if the agencies involved can't get the loans they need, is RTD jumping the tracks by pushing it on its bus ads? Tonilas acknowledges that construction there is on hold — possibly for months, maybe forever — but notes that crews have been relocating the utility lines near the station in anticipation of much more activity coming their way. "This is work that is real," she insists.

Even if it isn't FasTracked.