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Education
Farm Day at Lookingglass Elementary School teaches about origin of farm products

LOOKINGGLASS — Whether it’s the clothes you wear, the milk you drink, the meat you eat, or the many wood products used in everyday life, many kids think it all just comes from the store.

But Farm Day at the Lookingglass Grange on Wednesday gave students from Lookingglass Elementary School a first-hand look at where many of their everyday necessities come from.

“Hopefully they can learn where their food, shelter and clothing come from,” said Candy Maidens of the grange, which was a key player in organizing the event. “They’re really excited to learn about agriculture.”

Maidens said the grange was able to get good community participation for the event from the Lookingglass Fire Department, the Douglas County Farm Bureau, the FFA, the Umpqua Spinners and Weavers, and several grange members, who displayed gardening, beekeeping and other activities. There was even an FFA forestry booth to teach kids where wood products originate.

The Douglas High School FFA sent 42 members to work at the event, transporting groups of elementary students through about a dozen exhibits inside the building and to see live animal exhibits outside. Nearly 200 kindergarten through sixth grade students participated in the event.

“Unfortunately in our country, national resource and ag literacy is a problem. People don’t understand where their food comes from and they don’t understand where the lumber to build their homes comes from,” said Rob Holbeck, the Douglas High School FFA adviser.

Some FFA members answered questions for the students, while others manned the forestry booth and tended the animals that were on display outside the building.

“We’re just trying to educate the kids as much as we can about agriculture and how it helps the community,” said Taylor Davis, an FFA member and senior at Douglas High School.

“They’re pretty interested, especially in the wood,” added Natalya Lane, from the FFA.

Teachers felt it was valuable to get some hands-on lessons for the kids.

“We were given some lessons to do in the classroom before we came over trying to figure out which products came from which animal,” said second grade teacher Kristal Plikat. “For them to come over and see it hands on, it’s fabulous. I love it.”

They could get up close to the baby lambs, small horses, goats and a large cow, and even some farm machinery.

Maidens said the grange promotes agriculture, so the event was a good way to get their message out to a young audience about agriculture and community.

The kids got to see wool from the sheep converted into material and see a honeybee hive where bees make their honey.

Many of the kids had never seen farm animals up close, so there were some interesting questions posed to the FFA members from the some of the elementary school kids. It was an eye-opener for a lot of them.

“This little boy asked if one of the lambs out there was actually a puppy,” said Davina Jordy, a freshman in the FFA. “I told him, no, this is a lamb.”

Umpqua Weavers and Spinners member Amber Brown said she likes to show the kids how material is made to make clothes.

“They look at you kind of funny when they realize their clothing starts out over there with raw sheep wool,” Brown said. “That’s definitely an eye-opener.”

Teachers at the event felt it was a big success and it kept the students’ attention.

“They love finding out where the wood comes from and what they do with it,” said fourth grade teacher Paulette Goodman. “But they really loved the animals.”


Traffic
Washout closes Oregon 42 South near Bandon for at least the rest of week

Oregon Highway 42 South is closed 5 miles east of Bandon after a massive chunk of the freeway collapsed Wednesday night after the week’s rain.

The closure will likely continue into next week, as crews work to repair the 50-foot section of the road that washed out.

Motorists traveling between Bandon and Coquille are encouraged to use U.S. Highway 101 and Oregon Highway 42, according to an Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman.

The washout occurred near a culvert that was blocked resulting in water pooling on the uphill side of the road. Heavy rains in the area washed large amounts of debris through creeks and culverts in recent days.

In Douglas County, more than 3 inches of rain fell within 72 hours, increasing water flow in some area rivers by more than 10 times what it was at the beginning of April. The heavy rain caused minor flooding near local streams and areas with poor drainage. In Lane County, some residents were evacuated due to high water levels.

Updated road conditions and more information can be found by going to tripcheck.com or by calling 511.


PERS Plan Would Limit Tax Rebates, Affect School Retirement Benefits

SALEM — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has released her long-awaited plan to tackle the state’s financially troubled public pension system.

The governor’s proposal, made public Friday, includes a long list of ideas to raise around $3.3 billion over the next 16 years to shield Oregon schools from most of the rate hikes facing Oregon public employers. State leaders are trying to dig their way out of a pension debt now estimated at nearly $27 billion.

The plan includes proposals that could affect taxpayers, the business community and the state’s 70,000 school employees. Among other things, it calls for capping next year’s “kicker” income tax rebate at $100 — a move that would divert up to $500 million from taxpayers into the PERS school rescue fund.

“There’s something in here for everyone to love — and everyone to pick at,” said Nik Blosser, Brown’s chief of staff, in an interview with OPB. “The governor’s goal is really to spread that burden in a shared, equitable way.”

In remarks prepared for delivery to a legislative committee Friday, the governor said that she was particularly concerned what could happen to schools in a recession if lawmakers fail to tackle PERS.

“Tweaks to the PERS system will not set us on a path toward stability,” Brown said. “We have had this problem for several years, and I am not willing to go another legislative session without taking significant steps to stabilize school rates and address the PERS unfunded liability.”

During her successful reelection campaign last year, Brown opposed calls by her Republican opponent, then-state Rep. Knute Buehler, to generate big savings by making major reductions in pension benefits for the 175,000 state, local and school employees covered by PERS.

But she’s faced continual pressure to grapple with the PERS debt if she’s going to persuade legislators — and potentially voters — to approve $1 billion a year in new taxes for schools.

“It is an important part of getting the schools [tax] package accepted,” said Senate Finance Chairman Mark Hass, D-Beaverton. “It’s just a reality we have to accept.”

Even before releasing the plan, Brown took heat from a variety of critics. Most notably, the Oregon Education Association — a chief backer of the governor’s reelection campaign last year — blasted her push to take anything from the future retirement accounts of workers.

“I can’t believe the Governor would suggest cutting teacher salaries, especially in a moment when we’re finally talking about investments in schools,” said John Larson. “Instead of talking about slashing salary and benefits for our teachers, we should be fully funding our classrooms and giving them the resources they need to help students succeed.”

Brown’s proposal wouldn’t actually take anything out of the current paychecks of teachers or other school employees. Instead, it would affect the size of their retirement savings account.

The Oregon Supreme Court has made it clear that PERS changes can’t affect the 146,000 retirees currently receiving retirement benefits.

Meanwhile, business leaders criticized the idea of diverting surplus money from SAIF, the state’s workers compensation fund, saying that revenues for the public corporation come out of the pockets of individual businesses.

Tim Nesbitt, a former labor leader who now works with the business community on PERS issues, said Brown’s approach leaves public agencies besides K-12 schools in the lurch. He’s organizing support for a pair of ballot initiatives filed last week by former Gov. Ted Kulongoski and former state Sen. Chris Telfer of Bend that would call for larger reductions in PERS benefits.

Blosser, the governor’s chief of staff, defended the focus on school districts. He said PERS rate hikes hit them harder than most government employers because so much of school budgets are dedicated to payroll. He said the governor also wants to set up similar funds for public universities and community colleges but does not have a detailed plan for them.

Under the governor’s plans, school districts would still face a rate increase later this year. Average employer costs would rise from about 24 percent of salary to 29 percent. But the governor wants to protect them from further projected increases of up to about 35 percent — a level that could last until the 2030s.

Blosser also said that Brown’s plan does not ask too much of the current workforce — as he argued is the case for Kulongoski’s proposed ballot measures.

“We’re not putting the whole burden on current employees,” said Blosser, adding that they would pick up only about one-quarter of the overall cost.

The Brown administration has also defended taking money out of SAIF. The governor and her aides say Oregon businesses have some of the lowest workers compensation rates in the country and that the program has more than it needs as a cushion to ensure it can pay claims. SAIF operates as a public nonprofit corporation, but its board is appointed by the governor.

Brown faces several political difficulties in winning support for her plan. It would take a two-thirds vote by the Legislature to cancel the kicker tax rebate. That would require buy-in from legislators of both parties.

Under Oregon law, if tax collections exceed state economist projections by more than 2 percent, the excess is supposed to be returned to taxpayers. Currently, the kicker is estimated to provide about $640 million back to taxpayers next year, with the largest amounts going to those who paid the most.

The other elements of Brown’s plan could be enacted by a simple legislative majority, although some portions could face legal challenges.

Public employee unions have also strongly resisted attempts to reduce the retirement benefits of their members. Brown attempts to walk a fine line by asking for some buy-in from current workers without seeking anywhere as much as has been sought by Republicans and the business community.

Currently, Oregon public employees receive pensions paid for by their employers. In addition, workers pay 6 percent of their salary into an individual retirement plan that works like the 401k typical of the private sector. Under Brown’s plan, nothing would change for the first $20,000 a year of salary.

Above that amount, workers hired before 2004 — when the pension plan was richer — would contribute 3 percent of their salary toward shoring up PERS. Newer workers would have to divert 1.5 percent of their salary toward the PERS system.

One of the biggest financial unknowns in Brown’s plan is her call to divert more than $1.3 billion in capital gains and estate taxes over the next 16 years. Those collections would come when those taxes produce higher-than-average receipts. Whether the economy actually produces those kinds of returns is uncertain.