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An 'F' for effort

A state bill allowing school districts to cancel days doesn't pass smell test

If we were to create a Top 10 Bad Ways to Balance the Budget list for Oregon school districts, just cancel school would have to be No. 1.

Yet that option is about to be authorized under state law.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski says he plans to sign House Bill 2894, which will allow districts to cut instructional days over consecutive years without imperiling state funding. Today's law says they can lose state funds if they do it more than once.

It's bad enough that Oregon requires less classroom time than nearly any other state. It's worse that many districts this year dealt with last-minute budget blows by cutting instruction even further.

That it would happen again ' maybe even more than once ' should be unthinkable.

— We don't think any district willingly goes this route. Teachers and district leaders alike say cutting into the school year screws up curriculum and detracts from students' ability to concentrate.

There's no question that doing it for even one year has heaped unfavorable national attention onto Oregon. Everyone from cartoonist Gary Trudeau to The New York Times has ridiculed our inadequacies. It has undeniably damaged Oregon's reputation and students' opportunities when they go elsewhere.

If there's a message Oregon shouldn't send now, it's that we've decided it's OK for districts to go this route again.

But here we are with districts again facing huge financial uncertainty from the Legislature, which has danced all year around the budget without approaching a solution now, a month before the beginning of the next fiscal year.

The bill, say its supporters, addresses the reality that lawmakers again may leave districts so strapped that they have no choice but to cancel school. That's possibly less likely than it was last time around, since even the smallest level of funding being considered at this point is more than schools received in the last biennium.

But less likely shouldn't make us feel great about this situation. If the numbers again come up short, the burden will rest on districts to resist torpedoing their programs and Oregon's reputation by doing the unacceptable and calling it good.

No state program is more important than education, and no budget-balancing tool more foul than canceling school.

House Bill 2894 is no excuse for the Legislature's failure to deal with Oregon's problems. And the reality it addresses shouldn't be conceivable in a state that values education.

Sound, and safe, ideas When you have kids in close proximity to wheels and pavement you have a ready-made situation for injury or death. That's why why we applaud two measures signed into law by Gov. Ted Kulongoski last week.

House Bill 2338 prohibits passengers younger than 18 from traveling in an open truck bed unless they're strapped in, riding in a parade, working on a farm or going from one hunting camp to another.

A new helmet law, Senate Bill 795, will require children under 16 to wear protective headgear while skateboarding, riding on scooters or using inline skates. Violators could be fined &

36;25.

Now only bicycle riders under 16 are required to to wear helmets.

Oregon has a moral and legal responsibility to protect our children, as the state's most vulnerable citizens and our future leaders, Kulongoski said.

We agree.