Editorials from around Oregon

Selected editorials from Oregon newspapers:

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The Medford Mail Tribune, Sept. 18, on federal financial support:

Rural counties in Western states have fought for years to receive reasonable compensation for the vast swaths of federal land within their borders. Members of Congress spend considerable time convincing their colleagues from urban districts on the East Coast that they have an obligation to help Western counties provide the public services they take for granted.

A bipartisan coalition of the U.S. senators from Oregon, Idaho and Colorado has proposed legislation that would reauthorize federal payments to rural counties for 10 years. The only puzzling thing about this is that it wasn't done years ago.

The legislation doesn't specify how much money counties would get each year — that's up to each Congress to decide — but it would avoid the need to fight over whether to renew the payments at all.

The legislation introduced Monday addresses the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, which has sent federal money to 1,900 counties in 49 states for more than 40 years. The significance of these payments varies widely depending on how much federal land lies in a given county.

The federal government owns 48% of the land in Jackson County, and it pays no property taxes on any of it. That puts the county at disadvantage when it comes to funding law enforcement and other services. Jackson County has received varying amounts under the program — as little as $48,631 in 2000, and $1.8 million this year — and 79% of that goes to the Sheriff's Office, Community Justice and the District Attorney's Office.

PILT payments are separate from the Secure Rural Schools program, which compensates counties for declines in shared income from timber sales on federal land. Winning approval of those payments, too, is a continual struggle for Western senators, and Oregon Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley have joined with Idaho Republican Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch to propose an endowment fund that would make the Secure Rural Schools program permanent.

As the sponsors indicate, this is not a partisan issue. The financial stability of rural, historically timber-reliant counties depends on the federal government living up to its responsibilities.

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The Eugene Register-Guard, Sept. 18, on new medical campus guest house used for families in need:

Last week, a dozen families checked in at the new PeaceHealth guest house at the RiverBend medical campus in Springfield. Those families had a child with serious health issues receiving treatment at the hospital, and a free room at the guest house lets them stay close.

Eugene-Springfield is lucky to have top-notch medical facilities where desperately sick kids and adults can receive treatment. Patients can come from 50 miles away or more, and as the distance lengthens, it becomes increasingly unfeasible for a family to travel back and forth to be with a family member. For people in more rural communities who must burn a lot of gas to reach the care they need during a very stressful situation, having a resource like the guest house alleviates some of that stress and some cost.

PeaceHealth SacredHeart Medical Center raised $8.4 million to build it. It has 20 rooms that each can hold six family members at no cost. Half is for families of adult patients and half is a Ronald McDonald House for families of children receiving treatment at the hospital. The guest house replaces one that had operated for years at the PeaceHealth hospital by the University of Oregon campus.

"It's a beautiful house," said Jessica Jarratt Miller, chief executive officer of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Oregon & SW Washington. "This is the first new Ronald McDonald House program that we've opened in more than two decades in Oregon."

This is the fourth Ronald McDonald House in Oregon. The others are in Portland (two) and Bend.

The Springfield house has kitchens, laundry, a library, common rooms and entertainment. The outdoor gardens and play areas even include a neighboring horse that is quickly becoming a favorite with the kids.

The fun and games are an important distraction for families. Miller said that most families are there with infants in the neonatal intensive care unit. Families with infants often have other young children in tow who probably don't understand everything that's going on. Keeping them busy is important to their well-being and their parents' mental health.

The guest house connects residents to a network of support to help families deal with complex emotions and other challenges associated with a hospital stay. That network, however, relies on volunteers from the community.

And that's the crux of things. A place like the guest house cannot succeed without support from the people who are lucky enough not to need its services. How well our community steps up to ease the suffering of others is a measure of our compassion and empathy. That can be a financial gift, of course. Or maybe some books in good condition to fill the shelves of the library that are still Spartan or other items on the weekly wish list like food or cleaning supplies.

Groups and individuals can help out cleaning, preparing meals and providing other services. More information is available on the Ronald McDonald House website (rmhcoregon.org/get-involved). People can target the type of support that meets their need and ensure it stays here in the Eugene-Springfield community.

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The Astorian, Sept. 17, on the education system:

Setting educational policy should follow the old adage, "It takes all sorts of people to make a world."

Too often, it does not.

The leadership philosophy of administrators and governing boards essentially determines how much priority our public schools give to vocational education.

Some want to push as many students as possible toward higher-level academics-focused education, ideally at four-year institutions.

More enlightened ones, however, have already concluded that is not the path for everyone.

Thus it is pleasing to see that North Coast school districts are realizing that society needs to make vocational education a priority.

Thanks in large part to funding from the voter-approved Measure 98, career-technical classes are becoming more and more a feature of curriculums.

As Edward Stratton recently reported, this has meant construction in Jewell, welding in Knappa, automotive in Warrenton, agriculture in Astoria and culinary arts in Seaside.

Warrenton's automotive and metal fabrication classes are a particularly good example — moving ahead in a new career-technical building being constructed next to the high school.

In Astoria, we lamented the loss of the agricultural program some years ago and are delighted that the class and its accompanying Future Farmers of America chapter is being revived.

Seaside's approach is, in large part, an acknowledgement that its community is focused on maintaining a strong hospitality industry and its course offerings should reflect that.

Educational policy tends to swing back and forth as leaders seek the right mix. Decades ago, an illogical stigma developed for the practice in which high school students were sorted into "A," ''B" and "C'' groupings to reflect the subject matter or level of academic rigor in their class offerings.

This practice, sometimes labeled "streaming," fostered the inevitable belief among some observers that students labeled "C'' must be less smart. It led critics to argue that these students were being written off rather early in life. And that created pressure to switch gears and place all students together — an inevitable recipe for failure.

Later, more enlightened educational researchers concluded the opposite. Not all students demonstrate the same aptitudes, so why not acknowledge that and fashion courses differently? Those destined to work with their hands as well as their minds clearly need a different path. Such efforts can begin in public schools then continue with apprenticeships and technical classes.

All this effort is sparked by a desire to improve Oregon's appalling graduation rates — too often among the worst in the nation.

While we are still lagging, the approach has seen some noted improvements.

Measure 5 in 1990 essentially hobbled educational funding when it capped property taxes and made Oregon schools more reliant on income tax revenue, which fluctuates considerably. The state has been suffering ever since.

As Stratton reported, North Coast school districts have invested Measure 98 funds on easing the transition into high school, adding tutoring while increasing staff efforts to track students' progress. Research shows that a successful freshman year is crucial to smoothing the route to graduation. We dream of the day when the graduation rate is 100% — and commend all efforts to make that happen.

Across the river in Washington state, community leaders are pressing for similar approaches. Some months ago, Long Beach Peninsula builders supply store Oman's presented the Ilwaco High School shop teacher with thousands of dollars of tools to boost his program. Year-round, company leaders serve with others on a vocational liaison committee to help guide thinking on this strategy.

The neighboring Naselle-Grays River Valley School District is a fine example of a district with high expectations for every individual student.

Among the two-dozen graduates of the Class of 2019 at Naselle High School, some were destined for college degrees, while others were looking at training in nursing or graphic arts. Still more were signing up to train to become power company linemen or entering the workforce.

At graduation, their accomplishments and chosen paths were applauded with equal vigor because in Naselle the belief is that every Comet should soar.

It is a philosophy the best educational leaders all embrace.