The financially strapped district is moving forward to close Whiteaker and Bailey Hill with a decision expected this week,, but district officials have not tried some less painful cuts.
Based on 4J budget documents and ideas from closure opponents, here's a list of options that could prevent furthur closures:
* 4J spends about $729,000 a year on boys sports programs and $249,000 a year on girls sports programs. Reducing the boys to match the girls (and complying with federal anti-discrimination laws) would save more than enough to keep Whiteaker and Bailey Hill Elementary Schools open.
* 4J has some of the oldest teachers of any large school system in the state. Buying out the early retirement of some of these older teachers at the top of the pay scale could save big bucks if their positions are re-staffed with far less expensive newer teachers.
* The district recently signed a deal with Coke and Pepsi to place 52 pop machines in local high schools, generating up to $820,000 over the next eight years for athletics and stadium bleachers. The board could have dedicated the money to keeping neighborhood schools open. "It's pretty sad that the sports fields have priority over teachers in a small school," says Whiteaker resident Sam Douglas.
* The district plans to increase its budget reserves to $5.8 million next year, up from $3.5 million last year. Not increasing reserves would save $2.3 million to keep schools open.
* The city spends $250,000 a year on cops in schools under a program started a few years ago. The district could ask the city to spend the money instead on keeping Whiteaker open to reduce blight and crime in the low-income neighborhood.
* Salary and benefits for administration, teacher and other 4J staff consume 88 percent of the district's general fund budget. For each 0.2 percent savings in staff costs, the district could save a school for a neighborhood. One parent testified that the district should cut from the $700,000 a year the district spends on a Wellness Clinic for staff.
* While 4J's student enrollment increased 1 percent in the 1990s, enrollment in the adjacent Bethel school district increased by 28 percent. Merging the two districts could save Bethel taxpayers millions of dollars in building new schools while helping to fill 4J schools.
* The district spends $646,000 a year on a "staff and community relations" department focused on external and internal public relations. That's enough to keep three schools open.
* The budget for the superintendent's office has increased almost 20 percent in the last three years. Reducing the budget in this area back to where it was would save $144,000, almost enough to keep a school open.
The district could also ask for new taxes. The city of Portland and Multnomah County provide their school system with millions of dollars in funding that evades Measure 5 limits. In 1997-98, the city and county gave Portland schools $4 million to help with a shortfall. In 1998-99, the county gave the Portland schools $10 million collected from a business income tax.
The city of Eugene could pass similar taxes to keep neighborhood schools open. Based on recent studies, here are some options:
* A corporate income tax of 1 percent would generate about $2.8 million per year.
* A surcharge on state income taxes for those earning more than $100,000 a year (beginning at 2 percent and increasing to 4 percent for incomes over $500,000) would generate an estimated $4.8 million per year.
* A gross receipts tax on company revenues of one-10th of a percent would yield about $6.9 million per year.
While the 4J district has asked the city of Coburg for operating money to help keep open the elementary school there, it hasn't asked the city of Eugene for money to keep its schools open. Mac McFadden, a homeless advocate who served on the district's school closure committee, says the city could look at schools as an economic development investment.
While the city has given away hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks, parking garages and roads to promote corporations in its enterprise zone and urban renewal districts, it hasn't made any direct investment in schools. Numerous studies have shown the positive effects of neighborhood schools on city livability, economic vitality and urban renewal.
Cynthia Kokis, who saw the harsh effects of closing the Lincoln
School in her neighborhood in the early 1980s, testified that the district should
turn to progressive taxes to keep schools open. "The reality is upper income
people and corporations aren't fairly taxed." She added, "We lack imagination
and creativity more than we lack funding."
Every powerful story about fighting for truth and justice has its heroes. This story, a tale of the secrets and lies behind America's chemical industry, is no exception.
Now, in the latest chapter of the story, a team led by Bill Moyers has created a PBS special report called "Trade Secrets" that will air on Monday evening, March 26. The special, based on chemical industry documents, will explore allegations that the industry obfuscated, denied and hid dangerous effects of chemicals on unsuspecting workers and consumers. At its core is a troubling question: With more than 75,000 chemicals having been released into the environment, what happens as our bodies absorb them, and how can we protect ourselves?
When it hits the air, the Moyers special is expected to re-energize veteran health activists and medical professionals in their fight against a growing problem -- unregulated and untested chemicals flooding the commercial market place. This public heat, coupled with a burgeoning grassroots resistance to chemical producers, may set the industry on the defensive like never before.
While most viewings will happen in private homes, activists in dozens of cities -- from Maine to Oregon -- are holding public viewing events.
The Eugene gathering will be at 8 pm Monday, March 26 at Harris Hall, sponsored by Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP) and the newly formed Oregon Toxics Alliance (OTA). NCAP will talk about its current pesticide action campaign and Mary O'Brien will introduce OTA and give background on the Moyers documentary. The actual showing is from 9 to 10:30 pm.
"Just before he died [in 1990] he said, 'Mama, they killed me,'" recalled Elaine. "I promised him I would never let Vista or the chemical industry forget who he was."
And she hasn't. She teamed up with Billy Baggett to file a wrongful death suit against Vista. Baggett won a settlement for Ross, but she wasn't satisfied with just the money. She knew that her husband's death wasn't an isolated incident -- that many other chemical plant workers were dead, dying or sick because their employers weren't telling them about potential health hazards. And Vista certainly wasn't the only culprit.
So Ross told Baggett to take the fight to the next level. Baggett did, suing 30 companies and trade associations including the Chemical Manufacturers Association (now called the American Chemistry Council) for conspiracy, alleging that they hid and suppressed evidence of vinyl chloride-related deaths and diseases.
The companies fought back, trying to get the suit thrown out of court. But in a crucial decision, Judge Fred S. Silverman said "no" to the motion, allowing Baggett to proceed with his suit and giving him access to thousands of previously secret documents. These "Chemical Papers," as they are becoming known, chronicled virtually the entire history of the chemical industry, much of it related to vinyl chloride -- minutes of board meetings, minutes of committee meetings, consultant reports, and on and on.
According to Jim Morris of the Chronicle, the documents suggested that major chemical manufacturers closed ranks in the late 1950s to contain and counteract evidence of vinyl chloride's toxic effects. "They depict a framework of dubious science and painstaking public relations, coordinated by the industry's main trade association with two dominant themes: Avoid disclosure and deny liability." The chemical companies were hiding the fact that they had "subjected at least two generations of workers to excessive levels of a potent carcinogen that targets the liver, brain, lungs and blood-forming organs."
"Even though they (the chemical companies) may be competitive in some spheres, in others they aren't," Baggett told Morris. "They have a mutual interest in their own employees not knowing (about health effects), in their customers not knowing, in the government not knowing."
"There was a concerted effort to hide this material," said Dr. David Rosner, a professor of public health and history at Columbia University who has reviewed many of the documents as part of a research project. "It's clear there was chicanery."
In a prepared statement, the Chemical Manufacturers Association called such charges "irresponsible." The group said that it promotes a policy of openness among its members.
Moyers agreed that the story needed to be told. The result of their collaboration is "Trade Secrets," the 90 minute special that will be followed by a 30 minute roundtable discussion among industry representatives and advocates for public health and environmental justice. Coming as it does on Monday night, March 26 -- the night after the Academy Awards, where Julia Roberts may very well receive an Oscar for her portrayal of Erin Brockovich -- this one-two punch of mass audience attention could deal the chemical industry quite a blow.
Citizen activists and health experts have been fighting for decades to protect their families from untested and unsafe synthetic chemicals. It has been a difficult battle, due in part to public misconceptions. Almost 80 percent of Americans think that the government tests chemicals for safety, which is untrue. Aside from chemicals directly added to food or drugs, there are no health and safety studies required before a chemical is manufactured, sold or used in commercial or retail products. The same is true for cosmetic products and the chemicals in them.
So if the government isn't regulating chemical safety, who is? Unfortunately, the chemical industry itself.
As health advocates have long complained, this self-regulation simply isn't enough. "For the most part, we rely on chemical companies to vouch for the safety of their products," says public health advocate Charlotte Brody, a former nurse. "That's like relying on the tobacco industry to assess the risk of tobacco."
"For decades, chemical companies kept secret the hazards of
chemicals they produce," Brody said. "These chemicals are in our food,
our water, the air we breathe. Now, they're in all of us. Every child on Earth is
born with these synthetic chemicals in their bodies, and only a small percentage
of these chemicals have been adequately tested."
For most Eugeneans, scant attention is ever given to sister-city relationships. They manifest as bits of harmless political window-dressing, but don't much affect our lives.
Local attorney Marilyn Cohen and her husband Dr. Peter Moulton originally went to Nepal to study Tibetan Buddhism in 1984, later making many repeat journeys.
In 1991 they became involved with the Eugene-Kathmandu Sister City Committee (Marilyn is now president). That same year, a Nepalese UO student asked Peter to carry a greeting to his dad in Kathmandu. Cohen and Moulton were horrified to learn from the father, Dr. Shree Shah, that the government had plans to low-temperature incinerate 22 tons of outdated pesticides, including some of the deadliest toxins known.
Were this to take place in Oregon, according to Greenpeace, it would force the evacuation of 100 square miles. In Nepal, with a more brittle high-altitude climate and serious air inversions, the destruction could be far worse. Peter and Marilyn immediately went to work gathering the testimonies of eminent scientists and compacting that into a 25-page fax they sent to Dr. Shah who got it to the prime minister in time to stop the catastrophe.
Two years later, having established a kind of reputation for trouble-shooting, they were asked by the deputy mayor of Kathmandu if they could suggest anything to alleviate that city's worsening air pollution. "In fact," they were told, "Don't just study the problem. Please form a group to do something about it."
The population of Kathmandu had more than doubled to a million in the previous 10 years. One major source of pollution was the increase in diesel-powered "tempos," three-wheeled mini-buses, the most popular form of transport on Kathmandu's narrow streets.
Peter suggested converting all the tempos to electric power and he formed a non-profit company here in Eugene, Global Resources Institute (www.grilink.org), to make it so. He purchased a diesel three-wheeler from India and hired two U.S. engineers to do the conversion.
Nepal has the second greatest potential for hydroelectric power in the world and power tariffs are low. After the prototype was built and proved effective, the U.S. government stepped in and provided funding to GRI for a two-year demonstration program. Since then, five Nepalese companies have been building electric tempos upon Indian chassis.
The diesel interests fought back and had the law on their side. In fact, they were the law. The majority of polluting tempos were reportedly owned by police who registered them under other family members' names.
Kathmandu's government banned all new diesels but let the old ones carry on. At every opportunity, the police tried to cripple them. If there was a fender-bender between the two rival types, police would impound only the electric vehicle.
Finally all the diesels were banished to less populous regions. There are now more than 600 electric tempos running on the streets of Kathmandu. Peter and Marilyn got married in Nepal during the implementation of the project, but their electrifying success was just the beginning.
They learned that over 50,000 children die each year in Nepal because of diarrhea and amoebic dysentery. Chronic gastrointestinal diseases and parasites, most of which are carried by unsafe water, plague 90 percent of the Nepalese population.
Once again, Global Resources was asked to come up with a solution.
Peter studied several options including sand filters but the most promising idea also seemed to be the most shockingly elementary and inexpensive. Solar disinfection was known thousands of years ago using open bowls and a certain tree root which clarified the water. Its application was recently rediscovered and tested in Africa.
One modern element has been added: putting the water in plastic mineral water bottles for exposure to the sun. Since back-packers and tourists commonly purchase and discard these bottles, recycling them for solar disinfection saves lives and the environment.
The method is simplicity itself: water purifies in plastic bottles by exposure to daylight which provides both solar disinfection and solar heating to aid the process. The bottles are placed on racks at an angle to maximize their exposure to the sun. Where plastic bottles are already available, this form of solar disinfection is virtually free.
An experiment was tried whereby 5,500 Nepalese villagers were asked to expose their water bottles to four hours of sun each day in this manner. After nine months, incidents of diarrhea had been reduced in this test group by 80 percent. Researches at Harvard now claim that this facile method can render even arsenic harmless.
On a global scale, it is estimated that four million people a year
(mostly children) die from contaminated water.
The organizers of Student Mass say they have a predetermined route and are not planning to break any laws, block traffic or confront police.
"This is a positive thing," says student Robert Maris. "We'll be using the bike lanes and we're hoping for a long snake of people," he says. "We're trying to raise awareness for transportation alternatives."
Some Student Mass riders passed out soggy information sheets during their first rainy ride Feb. 23, advocating support for the Kyoto Protocols and other national and international actions to ease global warming.
Meanwhile, Critical Mass has kept a low profile over the winter months but is expected to resurface as the days grow longer. In the past, Critical Mass riders have gathered at 5:30 pm the last Friday of the month at the corner of 13th Avenue and Kincaid Street, with no predetermined route. -- TJT
The proposed FTAA would essentially extend the provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) throughout the western hemisphere. Opponents of the agreement say it will grant unequalled new rights to the transnational corporations of the hemisphere to compete for and even challenge every publicly funded service of its governments, including health care, education, social security, culture and environmental protection.
Criticisms of the FTAA echo the concerns voiced through protest at the 1999 World Trade Organization meetings. As in Seattle, a wide coalition of labor unions, radicals, human rights advocates, and environmentalists have put aside their differences in order to mobilize a mass protest. Rallies, marches and actions are planned from Quebec to Argentina, as well as at the major U.S. border crossings in New York, Vermont, Washington, Texas and California.
Closer to home, a "Stop the FTAA" coalition has formed including the Eugene-Springfield Solidarity Network (ESSN), Committee in Solidarity with Central American People (CISCAP), the local ALF-CIO, and other organizations. The coalition meets at 7 pm Wednesdays at the Methodist Church (14th and Oak) and is open to the public.
Additionally, veteran activist and corporate watchdog Karen Coulter will speak on "Corporate Globalism and the FTAA" at 7:30 pm Thursday, March 22, on the LCC campus, Forum Room 308. -- Lisa Igoe
* In our March 15 Chow! EW incorrectly identified Louis Rodie's position at Cornucopia Deli at 17th and Lincoln. Rodie is general manager and Sean Elliott is deli manager. Also in Chow!, Metropol Bakery's Chocolate Amaretto Mousse Cake should be baked in two greased and floured nine-inch pans and the chocolate sauce should be made with unsweetened "bakers chocolate" or liquor wafers.
* A March 15 letter to the editor refers to "the late environmentalist and poet Gary Snyder"; however, at last report, the 70-year-old beat poet and former Oregonian is still breathing and writing in the Sierra Nevadas of California.