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Full-day kindergarten a vital step


The Baker School Board has started discussing a vital topic — full-day kindergarten — and the board’s measured approach is appropriate.

All board members agree that full-day kindergarten would benefit Baker students.

Education experts say all-day kindergarten classes are crucial in helping kids read at grade level by the third grade. The importance of reaching that goal can’t be underestimated.

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The days when we truly unite

They are the days, some tragic and some triumphant, that make the “United” in “United States” more than a political slogan.

They are exceedingly rare, these days.

A compelling case can be made that America has experienced just three such days in the past half century.

One of those happened exactly 50 years ago today — Nov. 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.

On July 20, 1969, the nation again watched, equally transfixed but this time by joy and awe rather than sadness, as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon.

On Sept. 11, 2001, we looked on, incredulous, as the Twin Towers crumpled.

What these days have in common, besides engraving their scenes in our collective memory, is that each almost instantly suppressed the grievances and societal debates that characterize our free society.

We shared, however briefly, an experience that elevated our commonality as Americans above our party affiliations or political beliefs.

We get back to bickering, of course.

This annoys us at times, to be sure.

But would we really prefer a different system?

We rail against the seemingly juvenile obstinance in Congress, and wonder why we ever elected these bozos.

But ultimately we appreciate that we can replace the bozos if they finally exceed our patience, that we can influence the direction of our country.

It’s unfortunate that a monumental tragedy sometimes is needed to remind us of these truths.

But on days such as today, when we remember one of these terrible events — one now two generations in our past — perhaps we can muster just a bit of that national unity.

We can resume our important arguments about Obamacare and other matters tomorrow. But for today we ought to celebrate America, and Americans.

 

Obama’s belated apology


We’d be more inclined to accept President Obama’s apology for his empty promises regarding the healthcare reform law if he hadn’t dithered so long in making his mea culpa.

And even then it took another week for the president to make his apology meaningful by taking a tangible step to try to fix his mistake.

After admitting that his now infamous refrain during debates about the Affordable Care Act — “If you like your health plan, you will be able to keep your health plan” — was false, the president announced Thursday that the estimated 4.2 million Americans whose insurance policies had been or would be canceled due to provisions in Obamacare would be able to renew those plans for at least one year.

The president finally got it right.

Except the problems with his blunders persist.

Health insurance officials said the president’s reversal could disrupt the marketplace and cause higher premiums.

Considering that records from the Department of Health and Human Services written in 2010 noted that millions of people could lose their policies due to the healthcare reform law, neither the president nor Obamacare’s backers in Congress can plead ignorance. Little wonder the apologies ring hollow.

 

No conspiracy in learning hubs


Do you want all children in Baker County to be healthy, happy and ready to learn to read when they walk into a kindergarten classroom for the first time?

Yes, that was a rhetorical question.

Of course we all want this to be the case.

And yet a statewide campaign to achieve that goal not only has failed to gain universal admiration, but Baker County’s Republican Central Committee has passed a resolution urging county commissioners not to participate in that campaign, even though it could bring more public dollars to the county.

(Earlier this week a state board decided not to choose the regional hub, which includes Baker, Malheur and Umatilla counties, for a one-year pilot project. What will happen with the three-county plan is not clear.)

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A big bill, but worth it


The Baker City Council is being asked to spend a lot of money for something most of us will never see.

But the investment in a temporary ultraviolet (UV) light treatment plant for our drinking water is both wise and necessary.

What the Council can buy is reassurance.

By agreeing to spend an estimated $30,000 per month to disinfect drinking water with ultraviolet light, councilors can show residents that they are committed to avoiding a repeat of this summer’s cryptosporidium outbreak.

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Behind the SUV bids


Often as not when Baker City government buys a vehicle, the “buy local” debate is revived.

The city’s recent decision to purchase a pair of SUVs wasn’t especially contentious compared with past cases.

But it did remind us that city councilors can, and in some cases should, consider factors other than price when choosing a dealer.

Councilors decided to buy two Ford Explorers from DJ Anderson in Sandy for $44,544. That dealership is among those that have negotiated contracts with the state through what’s called the Oregon Cooperative Procurement Program.

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Good news on grouse?


The specter of the sage grouse has haunted Baker County’s ranching industry for more than a decade, as federal protection for the bird could restrict grazing on public lands. The latest development, though, might be cause for optimism rather than worry.

Yes, the federal government is proposing to list as threatened sage grouse populations. But those are in Nevada and California.

We find this encouraging because it shows that federal officials aren’t necessarily bent on imposing one-size-fits-all strategies for protecting the species.

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Teeing up the ideas

Baker City CPA Bruce Nichols asked the City Council Tuesday to consider having an existing nonprofit, City Golf Club, manage the city-owned Quail Ridge Golf Course.

Councilors should discuss Nichols’ idea.

And any other plausible solution that comes to them in the wake of Seven Iron Inc.’s decision to not renew its  management contract.

A viable golf course helps the local economy.

Equally important, the city needs annual lease payments from a course manager to pay off the debt it piled up several years ago as a result of building the back nine holes (despite voters rejecting a tax levy) and  from annual operating losses at the course.

This also might be the right time to revive an old idea — selling the 15 acres the city owns adjacent to the course.

 

Contracts reflect the economy


Baker City’s new contracts with its three labor unions are reasonable deals that reflect the economy and the city’s budget situation.

These three-year pacts with the police, fire and public works unions are quite different from the five-year contracts they replace.

And rightfully so.

The previous contracts included annual pay raises ranging from 2 percent to 4 percent. That seemed appropriate when the contracts were ratified in 2008. But when the economy went into a tailspin later that year, and many city residents in the private sector had their pay frozen or lost their jobs, those raises seemed awfully generous.

Five years later the economy has improved, but only marginally.

The city had no choice but to slow the growth of employee salaries and benefits, which account for about 70 percent of the budget. These new contracts do that, with annual raises ranging from 1 percent to 1.5 percent. The city also has switched to higher-deductible, lower-premium health insurance plans.

Unlike many cities, Baker City hasn’t had to lay off workers. These new labor contracts should help the city remain on the right side of the ledger.

 

Why does the state hate woodstoves?


We thought Oregon’s offensive against woodstoves reached the apex of its lunacy back in 2009, when the Legislature passed a law that prohibits people from selling a home that contains a stove that isn’t certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

We were wrong.

Now, it seems, not even that coveted EPA certification, which was supposedly so vital four years ago, no longer is sufficient.

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has joined officials from six others states in filing a lawsuit against the EPA, claiming the agency has failed to adequately limit air pollution produced by new woodstoves.

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