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Town Hall: In a classroom setting, local officials talk education and more

Monday’s pre-town hall meeting with Sen. Jeff Merkley (story, A1) was well-attended, and as effective a half-hour gathering of a group of public officials as you could ever expect to see.

Port infrastructure, school funding, federal budget issues, county payments, and even electronic smoking devices — the source of one of Merkley’s biggest frustrations as a legislator — received a quick but pointed piece of the senator’s attention. He considers the porous restriction on sales of e-devices and associated products to be a significant health hazard for youth, and decried the Food and Drug Administration’s “foot-dragging” in enacting rule changes pertaining to use, possession, and sale of such items to adolescents.

The group of 30 or so officials, and a few citizens, met at Hood River Middle School, down the hall from the cafeteria where 75 or so residents would gather a short time later to hear from Merkley.

The pre-session convened, fittingly, in a science classroom. It was on the same day the State Senate approved the $7.235 billion K-12 biennial budget regarded as too small by most educators, including Superintendent Dan Goldman, who was present. When Merkley remarked that the K-12 allotment was an increase from the current level, Goldman noted, “But the investment does not keep pace with costs,” adding that per-student funding actually goes down.

Also in the room were officials from the County Commission, Hood River and Cascade Locks city and port, and Columbia Gorge Community College.

The conversation returned to education with Merkley’s hedged prediction that change is coming via legislation aimed at replacing the federal structure known as No Child Left Behind, famous for leaving a lot of students and districts pulling up the rear by what Merkley calls “high stakes testing.”

Testing requirements were termed by Goldman as “traditionally states’ issues increasingly becoming federal ones” and Merkley said that “a significantly diminished federal role comes out of this legislation.”

When he restated that 90 minutes later near the end of the town hall, it drew applause, indicating how welcome is the idea, to many people, of returning more local control to ways we assess our kids’ education, and the rewards or consequences owed to schools that excel or fall behind.

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