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Editorials from Oregon newspapers

(Medford) Mail Tribune, Aug. 9: CSI: Josephine county

Josephine County residents continue to learn what happens when they refuse to support basic levels of law enforcement — Oregon State Police troopers diverted from highway patrols to respond to crimes, vigilante squads patrolling outlying areas and a jail too small to hold most suspects arrested for routine crimes. The latest wrinkle: using volunteers to investigate crime scenes.

Sheriff Gil Gilbertson says the program is still being developed, but he insisted volunteers would be trained to properly and legally process crime scenes. The idea is to start with burglaries, performing tasks including dusting for fingerprints, taking photographs and collecting other evidence.

The coordinator of the effort — also a volunteer — told the Daily Courier, "If we get really good at it, we're going to move on to other crimes."

There is no question the Sheriff's Office needs all the help it can get. Two years ago, budget cuts forced the layoffs of 60 of the department's 100 deputies and support personnel. Most of those left on the job are needed to staff the county jail, which also laid off staff and reduced the number of beds available to house arrestees.

County voters twice rejected tax levies that would have restored public safety budgets. In May, they will vote on a five-year levy to fund jail operations and reopen the closed Juvenile Justice Center.

It's hard to blame Gilbertson for trying to stretch his dwindling resources by asking for volunteers. But at some point, you get what you pay for — or don't pay for, as the case may be.

Ideally, a trained volunteer could perform crime-scene work that otherwise wouldn't get done because there is no one to do it. And if the training is good, and the evidence the volunteer gathers stands up in court — potentially a big if — crimes could be solved and arrests made where they otherwise wouldn't.

District Attorney Stephen Campbell worries evidence handled by volunteers could be vulnerable to challenges in court from defense attorneys. That's a valid concern. Mishandled evidence could make it harder for prosecutors to win convictions.

Beyond that, however, looms a larger question: If volunteers processing crime scenes lead to more arrests, but there is no room in the jail, what's next? Volunteer jail guards? Somehow it's hard to picture people lining up to do that job for free.

Josephine County residents should consider that before voting on the jail levy in the May 20 election.


Albany Democrat-Herald, April 7: Report on prison population offered good news

A report last week from the state of Oregon saying that state prison populations are expected to grow only 2 percent over the next decade was a shot of good news for taxpayers.

Better yet, it offered additional evidence that the state is on the right track in its efforts to move inmates into community-based correctional programs, which typically are far more effective than state prisons, both in terms of the price tag and the rate of recidivism.

The state report, from the Office of Economic Analysis, concluded that Oregon's prison population will grow by fewer than 300 inmates over the next 10 years. That 2 percent growth estimate is the smallest increase anyone in the state correctional system could recall. (It's worth noting, however, that the projection still calls for the state to house more than 15,000 inmates by 2024.)

The upside for taxpayers: The revised estimate suggests that the state likely will not need to build a new prison near Junction City, as had been planned.

And it's a 50-50 chance that the state won't need to open a medium-security wing at Deer Ridge Correctional Institutional near Madras, as once was projected. That wing never has been used, and it's obviously cheaper to keep it mothballed than to open it. In fact, it costs an average of $87 a day to house inmates in the state system.

Give the credit to House Bill 3194, passed by the 2013 Legislature, which reduces sentences for certain drug and property crimes. It also lowers penalties for some driving with suspended license violations and marijuana-related charges.

The measure could save the state some $17 million over the two-year budget cycle; the idea is to reinvest some of the savings into those community-based programs. (It's also worth noting that this is part of the reason why Linn County law-enforcement officials want to reopen a wing of the Linn County Jail.)

Albany Rep. Andy Olson was one of the key players in shepherding House Bill 3194 through the Legislature. No one ever has accused Olson, a former Oregon State Police officer, of being soft on crime, but he was worried that the explosive growth in the state prison population was unsustainable.

Now that it looks as if House Bill 3194 is starting to pay off, it remains important that state officials fulfill their part of the bargain, by being sure that local jurisdictions have the resources to run effective correctional programs.

It won't do us any good to shortchange programs we need to succeed if we're to have any chance at wrestling our correctional system back under control.


The (Bend) Bulletin, April 10: FDA should revise grain rules

It's a wonderful example of real-life recycling: A beer brewer buys barley, cooks it, extracts the wort, which contains the sugars that will become alcohol, and gives or sells the cooked barley to a local cattle rancher. The rancher feeds the used — spent — grain to his cattle, which in turn wind up in the hamburgers at a local restaurant.

From Deschutes Brewery on down, local beer makers recycle their spent grain this way, as do brewers around the country.

Unfortunately, the federal Food and Drug Administration, hip deep in rewriting the rules aimed at keeping the nation's food supply safe, last fall proposed new regulations that would put an end to the cycle. It would do so by dramatically tightening the rules governing storage and delivery of the grain.

"Dramatically" hardly covers it. The Beer Institute, an industry trade association, told the FDA in a letter that the cost of putting the equipment required by the new legislation into an individual brewery could cost as much as $13 million — a prohibitive amount for a small craft brewer and many large ones.

The alternative, meanwhile, is simply to throw the grain away. Deschutes Brewery alone produces some 25 million pounds of the stuff a year, and, according to a home-brew website, each pound fills about a half-gallon container. Stuff that into 65-gallon garbage cans, and you come up with almost 200,000 cans of waste a year.

The industry's reaction to the proposed changes was so strong that the agency has said it will redraw the rules, taking the brewers' worries into consideration. It should. Foodborne illnesses are a serious threat. But, says Gary Fish of Deschutes Brewery in a story on Oregon Public Radio recently, he's never heard of a case of illness caused by contaminated spent grain.

The FDA does have good reason to be concerned about food safety. It's been barraged by critics over its inability to prevent outbreaks of disease caused by contaminated food. In the case of spent grain, however, the caution seems misplaced. Its decision to go back to the drawing board was the right one to make.


The (Eugene) Register-Guard, April 8: Oregon squeezes faculty and students

Oregon ranks 27th in population and 30th in median family income among the 50 states, so it might be expected to show up toward the middle of national comparisons of state university systems. Yet in a number of such comparisons, compiled in the Oregon University System's new 2013 Fact Book, Oregon is an outlier, ranking higher than might be expected in some measures and lower in others. In some respects, Oregon is squeezing more than the average amount of juice from its public universities — mainly by squeezing faculty and students.

In terms of state appropriations per student in four-year colleges, Oregon's $3,796 ranks 46th, leading only Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Hampshire and Colorado. Wyoming is No. 1, at $19,970, and the U.S. average is $6,720. The state compensates its low appropriations by charging the nation's 16th-highest tuition and fees — $10,125, compared to the national average of $8,450.

Appropriations, tuition and fees combined add up to $13,920 per full-time student in Oregon, which means the state's universities rank 35th in their revenue from these primary sources of revenue. The national average is $15,170, and universities in six states obtain more than $20,000 in primary revenue per student.

Oregon operates its universities with below-average revenue by paying low salaries to faculty. The average for faculty of all ranks at Oregon's Ph.D-granting universities is $75,100, ranking 46th in the nation. The national average is $87,900, and four states have averages above $100,000. When non-salary benefits are added to the comparisons, Oregon faculty pay ranks 32nd at $107,600, compared to the national average of $116,300.

Yet by some measures, Oregon universities are doing well. They rank 17th in the nation in the volume of federal research and development grants, bringing in $545 million in 2011 — more than a number of richer and more populous states such as New Jersey and Massachusetts. And Oregon ranks 18th in the number of bachelor's degrees awarded per 10,000 population — 40.5, compared to a national average of 36.

To most Oregonians, faculty salaries of $75,100 — or $107,600 with benefits — seem enviably comfortable. Oregonians might also reason that tuition and fees totaling $10,125 can't be that great a burden on students, because enrollment keeps rising. For every 10,000 people in the state, 265 students are enrolled in a public university, slightly above the national average of 258, so Oregon's higher education system hasn't priced itself out of the market.

Yet the availability of state comparisons makes clear that the market is a national one. A $75,100 salary may look good, but $119,600 — or $162,800 with benefits — looks even better. That's the average salary for faculty at Ph.D-granting universities in California. The average Oregon professor can get a raise by moving to any of 45 other states. Such a competitive disadvantage makes it harder for Oregon universities to retain faculty — particularly those responsible for bringing in an above-average volume of federal grants. High tuition and fees, meanwhile, reduce the incentive for Oregon's brightest students to remain in their home state, and close the doors of higher education to many others.

Over a long period, the effects of low investment and high costs begin to show. Oregon ranks 19th in the percentage of people aged 55 to 64 who have a bachelor's degree or higher. Most of those people went to college in the 1960s and '70s. The state ranks 24th in the percentage of people aged 24 to 35 with bachelor's or graduate degrees. These people were in college after the turn of the century. The figures indicate that relative to other states, Oregon's level of educational attainment is slipping.

And in absolute terms, Oregon's level of educational attainment has barely budged — 30.7 percent of the younger group has at least a bachelor's degree, compared to 30.6 percent of the older Oregonians. The 0.1 percent increase from one generation to the next is below the national average of 2.9 percent.

In some respects, Oregon is an outlier — investing relatively little in higher education and getting good returns, and charging a lot while still attracting students to state universities. But the long-term trends in educational attainment show that Oregon is treading water at best — a possible sign that competitive disadvantages are taking a toll. In the long run, Oregon will get what it pays for.


The Daily Astorian, April 14: Oregon and federal health initiatives need more than symbolism

Hiring corporate turn-around specialists Clyde Hamstreet & Associates to continue cleaning up the embarrassing mess at Cover Oregon is a reasonable move. It begs the question why the governor's office didn't ensure that Oregon Health Authority managers possessed basic management skills from its inception.

Oregon Health Authority interim Director Bruce Goldberg has turned in his resignation, a signal of continuing instability in the agency.

Hamstreet is the equivalent of an emergency medical technician, called to the scenes of corporate wrecks to see if they can be saved. The firm's success rate is 50 percent. Thanks to its ability to obtain tax support and insurance premiums regardless of managerial errors, Cover Oregon won't go bankrupt. But it certainly may underperform for an extended period, doing too little for too much money. Pragmatic, smart business decisions are overdue.

Cover Oregon is not an unmitigated disaster. Up to 1,500 new applications roll in per day ahead of the April 30 extended enrollment deadline. More than 217,000 Oregonians have enrolled via Cover Oregon, and another 130,000 have obtained Medicaid coverage.

Last week saw the resignation also of Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. Health and Human Services secretary responsible for the inception of the federal Affordable Care Act. On a far grander scale than the Cover Oregon debacle, the Obamacare roll-out will certainly go down in the annals of fumbled political successes. Justifiably praised by the president last week for presiding over 7.5 million ACA sign-ups, Sebelius will nevertheless be remembered like the captain of the Titanic — blindingly steaming ahead as an iceberg tore the bottom out of Obama's accomplishment.

That insurance sign-ups are so strong on both the federal and state levels despite all the mistakes and well-warranted bad publicity tells us that many Americans have indeed been eager to obtain coverage. Seeing this, congressional Republicans have begun perceiving their error in obsessively voting to repeal the ACA, without offering a better alternative. Ugly or not, the ACA and Cover Oregon are making a real difference in American lives. They must continue in some form.

The federal ACA website, HealthCare.gov, has started working well enough that Oregon is contemplating scrapping its own troubled website. A more functional Congress and nation would begin doing something similar at the federal level, taking a hard look at what is working and what isn't. So long as it wasn't permitted to become a roundabout way to gut the law, such an examination might find ways to deliver health insurance more efficiently.

Changing top agency leaders will only go so far in making health care reform achieve what it needs to before medical costs cripple the national economy. We must make certain the underlying health care laws and policies do the most good at the most affordable cost. This goal remains nothing but a faint dream.


The Oregonian, April 13: Oregon's wave of new teachers

A generation ago, the typical teacher in the United States had 15 solid years of classroom experience. Today, the typical teacher is a relative newbie, still figuring out how to do lesson plans and ride herd on a couple dozen kids.

That's a massive sea change for the national teaching workforce, and it has serious implications for all of the Oregon school districts hiring new teachers this spring. Providing these new teachers with more tools to succeed will pay off in higher student achievement, lower turnover and higher staff morale.

Teaching is one of the most common occupations in the United States, and it has remained predominantly white and female despite the country's changing demographics and working patterns. Yet experience levels are shifting, as researchers have confirmed this month in, "Seven Trends: The Transformation of the Teaching Force," published by the Consortium for Policy Research in Education.

Among the findings? The workforce is both grayer and greener than it was a generation or two ago. More teachers are staying into their late 50s and early 60s, and retiring baby boomers are being replaced by less experienced teachers of all ages, from millennials fresh out of college to Generation Xers making a mid-career switch.

Incredibly, the most common type of teacher in 2007 was a beginner in her first year of teaching. Today, thanks to recession-era layoffs that hit new teachers hardest, the most common teacher is in her fifth year: better, but still quite new. That experience level is expected to drift downward again as the economy improves and school districts rebuild their staffs.

For Oregon, this means getting serious about high-quality mentorships for new teachers. It isn't sufficient to pick a veteran teacher at random to check in occasionally, offer moral support and make sympathetic clucking noises: Those superficial mentorships are about as effective as no mentor at all.

Instead, research suggests that school districts should offer several kinds of strategic support, starting with a mentor who teaches in the same subject area and a principal who stays in touch all year. School districts can further boost their beginning teachers' odds of success by offering them reduced student loads, classroom aides and common planning time with others who teach similar classes. A comprehensive strategy has been shown to pay off in many ways: New teachers with early-career support are more likely to enjoy teaching and less likely to quit — and their students do better academically, too.

Many Oregon districts are starting to offer more useful mentoring. They're also working with teacher colleges on improving the student-teaching experience so that new hires are better prepared on Day One. This is good to see, considering the 40 percent attrition rate in the first five years of teaching. Done well, these critical investments should pay off for generations to come.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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