GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
One month down and four to go for the 2019 session of the Oregon Legislature. There’s been a surprising number of major votes already, most notably the Senate approving statewide rent control — with a vote in the House as early as this week. Redmond looks like a good bet to win approval for a affordable housing pilot project. A bill that would allow multiunit housing in areas zoned for single-family homes has the backing of Democratic leaders, but will likely get more hearings before it goes up for a vote. The “cap and invest” program to cut carbon emissions is also plowing ahead, with a “roadshow” of public hearings around the state, including Bend. It’s still a long way to the session’s finish line June 30. Here’s some of the news in and around the Capitol, and the rest of Oregon.
Just to be clear, PERS is not in any immediate danger of insolvency, so we’re in the realm of hypothetical here. Also, if this were possible, it wouldn’t be PERS declaring bankruptcy, but public employers that are members of the system – schools, municipalities, state agencies – if they were unable to afford the required contributions levied by PERS. Municipalities in other states have filed for bankruptcy protection to renegotiate obligations with creditors, including public employee pensions. After filing for bankruptcy in 2012, the City of Stockton, Calif., for example, was allowed by a federal bankruptcy judge to reduce existing pensions, thought it ultimately chose to reduce compensation for new employees and eliminate unfunded health benefits and leave existing pensions intact. The City of Detroit, meanwhile, filed for bankruptcy in 2013 and ultimately reduced retirees’ pensions by 4.5 percent and eliminated cost-of-living increases.
Oregon Public Broadcasting
Oregon state parks saw a record-setting number of overnight visitors in 2018. More than 2.8 million overnight stays were documented. That’s an increase of more than 100,000 visitors since 2017. Now, the state Parks and Recreation Department is looking to adjust rates in an attempt to persuade campers to go to less-visited spots. The bulk of 2018 park visitors headed to the Oregon Coast. Chris Havel, spokesperson with the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, said the department will be offering discounts on less-visited parks to encourage visitors. “We have authority from the Legislature to be a little bit more flexible with our fees,” Havel said. “We’re going to be offering steep discounts to try and attract those people who are really shopping by price to those parks that have capacity.”
Albany Democrat Herald
Home prices continue to soar in the mid-Willamette Valley, with the average sale climbing above $400,000 in Corvallis and $300,000 in Albany in 2018, according to data from the Willamette Valley Multiple Listing Service. Last year marked the first instance each city hit those milestones, and the Linn County side of Albany (without North Albany, which is in Benton County) alone also topped $300,000. Perhaps more impressive, the average sale price in both Albany and Corvallis, as well as Benton County overall, has grown by more than $100,000 in the last five years, according to Multiple Listing Service figures. Lebanon and Linn County saw their average sales price climb by more than $90,000 between 2014 and 2018. Every city in mid-Willamette Valley monitored by the Willamette Valley Multiple Listing Service saw increases of tens of thousands of dollars.
First things first — Howard Street Charter School is not closing. Howard Street, which teaches students grades 6-8, is the oldest of Salem-Keizer Public Schools’ four charter schools. Since its inception more than 20 years ago, Howard Street students have been taught in the South Salem High School annex. But two years ago, Howard Street officials were told they would need to vacate the building by the start of the 2019-20 school year to allow South Salem to reach the district’s desired enrollment capacity of 2,200 students. Just months before they were told to move, the Salem-Keizer School Board voted to cut about $185,000 from its funding for the charter school — about 15 percent — in order to fund it at the same level as the other charters in the district.
Scott McDonald, an instructional technology coach at Bend-La Pine Schools, is sick of how homogeneous his district’s computer science classes have become. But McDonald has a plan to increase opportunities and spark an interest in computer coding among girls and students of color, who up to now have not been as drawn to the field. At the start of this school year, every middle school in Bend-La Pine began teaching computer science using a free iPad curriculum. Attracting more girls and students of color to the field of computer science is one of the benefits of a program introduced this school year. For the first time all of the middle schools in Bend-La Pine offer the same computer science curriculum. “The reason we have this focus at middle school is we’re trying to create a pathway … that is equitable and it gets all of our kids to at least know and have an understanding of the world of computer science,” he said.
Portland Public Schools will try new water filtration systems at six schools in hopes of reducing lead levels in water as possible tighter restrictions loom. The pilot project “has the potential to substantially reduce lead levels well below the 15 parts per billion that is the state rule,” said John Burnham, the district’s temporary senior director of health and safety. The schools — Arleta K-8, Duniway Elementary School, Jefferson High School, Llewellyn Elementary School, Rigler Elementary School and Robert Gray Middle School — still have at least 15 drinking water fixtures with elevated levels of lead. Each of the six schools would get four water stations with new filters. About 500 drinking water fixtures in the district still have excessive levels of lead and have been turned off. Burnham told the Feb. 19 Portland Public Schools board meeting that some states are considering reductions in permissible lead levels in water for drinking fountains and for food preparation water in schools. The American Academy of Pediatrics, for example, recommends lead concentrations of one part per billion for water fountains in schools.
As a life-long Democrat, I must say that I am in complete accord with Oregon Senate Minority Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr.’s op-ed (“Oregon’s new, unbalanced way of governing,” Feb. 20). What is happening at the legislative level here seems to be mirroring the national level, shutting down/out input, opinion and potential dissent. It is abundantly clear that unbalanced governance is not working there and it will not work here. Of what are we Dems afraid? That Republicans have sensible research and analyses of issues and good ideas, too? That they will disagree with Democrats’ conclusions and recommendations? That they will get credit for good results?