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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.


Joe Bell: He did it


Joe Bell is a winner.

That his journey ended long before he reached his destination does not change this essential truth.

He did what he set out to do when he walked away from La Grande, many months and more than a thousand miles ago.

Bell, who lived in La Grande, embarked on a walk across America to tell people about his 15-year-old son, Jadin, who took his own life last winter after being bullied at school. Jadin was targeted, according to family and friends, at least in part because he was openly gay.

Joe Bell was struck and killed by a semi-truck on a Colorado highway Wednesday night.

His pilgrimage has ended.

His message, though, will continue.

And though this must of course be meager solace to Joe’s family and friends, it is a significant reality.

It’s obvious, from the reactions of the people Joe met along the way or who only knew him through media accounts, that he achieved his goal of explaining, in the most personal way imaginable, how destructive bullies can be.

No one who ever heard Joe’s story could ever feel the same about bullying. These people, we’re sure, will continue to advocate for tolerance, and in so doing they will keep alive the cause to which Joe had dedicated his life.


City action on pit bulls is necessary


City Councilor Roger Coles used the term “knee jerk reaction” Tuesday evening when councilors discussed imposing restrictions, or even an outright ban, on pit bulls.

In one sense the term is appropriate in this case.

A decision is sometimes deemed to be “knee jerk” when it’s prompted by a single event.

Trouble is, the term also, in many instances, connotes a decision which is based on emotion rather than on fact — “in the heat of the moment,” to use another cliché.

We don’t believe the City Council is acting in knee jerk fashion as regards pit bulls (and to be clear, Coles didn’t say he believed his colleagues had done so; he just said he hopes that doesn’t happen.)


Congress: More vote, less talk


Congress is arguing about Obamacare.

And as a result the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center is closed.

Puzzled?

We are too.


GOP: Be patient

Just how important is it to squash Obamacare before its more far-reaching provisions have been in place long enough for Americans to judge the law’s pros and cons?

According to some Republicans in Congress, it’s important enough to force another federal government “shutdown,” a term we had hoped would be confined forevermore to the Clinton administration.

To be sure, there’s ample reason to be skeptical of Obamacare.

The health care reform law that is the signature legislative achievement of the Obama presidency might turn into a fiscal, indeed societal, mess.

But then it might not.

We don’t know right now.

What we’re pretty sure about, though, is that a government shutdown will cost the GOP significant political capital — perhaps enough to give the Democrats a resounding win in the 2014 mid-term elections.

Which isn’t to say that a shutdown would be disastrous.

It wouldn’t be.

But closing national parks and the like annoy people, and reinforce the notion a lot of Americans have that Congress ought to convene not at the Capitol but in a sandbox.

Republicans ought to show a little patience.

If Obamacare, as some in the GOP insist, is doomed to fail, then its shortcomings will become evident soon enough. 

If that’s the case, there’s little doubt that a large majority of Americans would back any Republican-led campaign to either significantly change Obamacare or to withhold federal money for the program.

At that point the scenario is not whether the heartless GOP will shut down the government to stop an unproven law, but whether Obama and the Democrats would defend a failed law.


Bloated special session


Now that the Oregon Legislature is convening every year, rather than every other year, you’d think there wouldn’t be any pressing need to cram a bunch of bills into the special session Gov. John Kitzhaber has called for Sept. 30.

That session, which the governor had mulled pretty much since the regular session ended in July, is supposed to deal with one main topic, the so-called “grand bargain.”

That proposal, which is a compromise if not necessarily a bargain, includes cost cuts to the Oregon Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) in addition to what the Legislature did this spring, as well as $244 million in new taxes and a $43 million tax cut for some family businesses and exporters.


Airport should allow ad


We don’t share environmentalists’ concern about a bill pending in Congress that would allow logging to increase on some public forests in Western Oregon.

But we think they ought to be able to buy advertising space in Portland International Airport to plead their case.

The issue involves a campaign by several groups, including Oregon Wild and The Sierra Club, that dislike a proposal sponsored by three Oregon congressman — Democrats Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader and Republican Greg Walden — that would boost logging on about 1.5 million acres.

The groups’ campaign includes color ads with a photo of a clearcut forest and the slogan: “Welcome to Oregon: Home of the Clearcut."


Behind the numbers

To say there is room for improvement in Baker School District students’ scores on standardized tests is to state what’s not only obvious, but inevitable.

Such room will exist until every student meets or exceeds federal standards on every test.

This, of course, will never happen.

Yet we see considerable evidence that Baker 5J is making a concerted effort to better students’ performance.

And considering the challenges the district faces, we believe there is at least as much reason to applaud that effort as to criticize it.

The latest test results are hardly a cause for celebration, to be sure.

Students’ performance dropped in the 2012-13 year, compared to the previous year, in 13 of 18 categories.

Yet in seven of those 13, the decline was less than 4 percentage points.

Baker’s overall drop mirrored the statewide average, a trend school officials actually predicted due largely to students in many cases not being allowed to retake a test after failing to meet the federal benchmark.

But in several categories Baker students not only improved from the previous year, they surpassed the state average.

As for the challenges we mentioned, half of Baker’s students have family incomes that qualify them for free or reduced-price meals.

Students who live in poverty are more likely to struggle at school. Baker officials have tried to deal with that disadvantage in simple but effective ways, including offering breakfast at school.

The La Grande School District, as a comparison, has a smaller percentage of students qualifying for reduced-price mules — 46.3 percent. Yet Baker students outperformed their La Grande counterparts in half of the 18 categories.

The district has also increased the amount of training available to teachers. Critics might deride this as “teaching to the test,” but the actual purpose is to help them teach students how to better retain what they learn and, in some cases, will be tested on.

That sounds like good practice to us. Tests, however flawed they might be, still are a measurement of how much students have learned.


City had to return gift

 


It’s always difficult to reject a gift.

Especially one given posthumously.

But we agree with the Baker City Council’s decision last week to return to the family of the late Anthony Silvers the property he bequeathed the city upon his death in 2012.

 


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