Some education reform ideas deserve merit

Perhaps the teachers’ union members should have offered to take five days’ less pay without a reduction in the length of the school year, thereby keeping their fellow members employed as well as demonstrating what is in the best interests of the students.

Eighty-three percent of the school’s budget is designated to wages and benefits; the school year is 190 days; our costs per student in this country are among the highest in the industrialized world; and our students are among the lowest scoring in math and science. We are already paying the most for the least. To be a plumber, electrician, truck driver, doctor, lawyer, civil servant, etc., you must pass a test, but high school diplomas are issued for time spent in class, not based on what you learn. Most jobs in America have periodic reviews, including upward evaluations. The teachers’ union has done an excellent job of negotiating wages and benefits, and in the process has done a truly remarkable job of protecting incompetence.

The vast majority of our teachers are much, much more than competent; however, one bad teacher can destroy hundreds of students throughout a teaching career. While I have great emotional sympathy for the students and families involved, mainstreaming, in my opinion, is a colossal waste of resources. In my view, wages and benefits should not exceed sixty-six percent of the budget (books, building maintenance, and libraries are necessary, too.)

That represents personnel and pay cuts, including administrative positions. The school year could be lengthened to at least 220 days without pay increases. In the industry I work in, teachers would be considered part-time employees with reduced benefits, based on the number of days that they currently work.

I believe in upward evaluation, peer and administrative review, giving administrators the power to access merit pay based on ability, not empty degrees, and the power to dismiss substandard performers. To receive a diploma all students would be required to pass a GED at the very least. Mainstreaming should be eliminated along with its support staff.

A lot of what I think can’t be done because of state guidelines, mandates, and district contracts, all of which can be amended over time. This is the U.S.A. I have the constitutional right to express my views. I know a lot of people agree with me; they have told me so. Each of you has the right to agree or disagree on each and every point. The purpose of my letters is to create discussion regarding possible options.

My last letter (June 1) must have hit a nerve and I’m glad it did. If $170,000 is representative of median-priced housing in Hood River, the product of the high school can’t afford to live here. Most high school graduates do not go on to college. Our current high school education is not sufficient to earn a living wage. How would a teacher know? None of them are trying to earn a living merely on what they learned in high school. I have been a resident of Hood River for over 35 years. I bought a run-down fixer-upper house and with sweat equity, starting with a pick and shovel, put a foundation under it. School didn’t teach me my work ethic or trade. With my wife’s help, we have a fairly nice home and two kids in college.

I believe I’m familiar with the changes that have taken place in Hood River. This is definitely not the small town I moved to. The only two things that haven’t gone up are the value of American money and the value of a high school diploma. Tell your school board what your priorities are. The board and administration are involved in a difficult, if not impossible, task. If money were the only thing involved, the answer would be simple. No matter what the outcome, there will be many dissatisfied people, but at least you have the right to have your opinion heard.

Michael F. Fifer is a Hood River resident.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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