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Letters, Nov. 30

The season’s real light

Ashland’s Festival of Lights happens to fall on the day after Thanksgiving, and over a million white lights flood the downtown — a symbol of goodness and the strength of community. A holiday parade, visits from Santa and Mrs. Claus and holiday merriment follow.

In a town that values theater, so much of it winds up being played out on the streets and sidewalks as our homeless brothers and sisters struggle to exist, and because of the work I do, I often have the privilege of having a front-row seat to these stories. Often they look like tragedies, but comedies occur, too, and just like the Shakespeare theater, audiences play a significant role in how the story lands.

He had a bit part in last night’s show, but his words still echo in my mind early the next morning. “It’s like transient central around here,” he said, disdain falling from his voice as he headed toward the festival of light ceremony and passed by the community peace meal.

Just minutes before, a young woman who is a winter shelter guest along with her mother, because generational poverty is a hard cycle to break, burst into the kitchen. “There’s a woman outside who is just getting here who hasn’t eaten all day and she walked really far to get here,” she said worriedly. “I hope there’s enough food left for her tonight.”

If this were a play there would be a long pause right now.

I believe that love looks a lot like light, and I often see it reflected back at me on the faces of people we serve. Our friends who often have next to nothing, yet share in ways that the man who walked by probably doesn’t have the privilege of knowing.

Over a million lights lit up the downtown, but the real light happens when we figure out how to take better care of one another. As any theater buff knows, that’s a love story for the ages.

Vanessa Houk

Ashland

Kudos to School Board

Congratulations to the Ashland School Board for a 70 percent yes vote on renewing the school bond. Ashland voters proved their commitment to education once again and also endorsed the school district’s leadership through the passage of the $109 million bond — a tremendous vote of confidence.

What is our School Board’s secret? A commitment to finding the best way to serve the interests of all students while being aware of the finite resources available to achieve essential goals. This is a cost-conscious, financially responsible School Board. As a result, we the voters trusted the bond measure and voted for it.

The School Board faces big financial headwinds from PERS and health care and the possible loss of revenues from the long established “open enrollment” program, which begins to phase out in 2020. But they are proactively preparing for the future by:

  • Building a 9 percent reserve fund
  • Implementing value-based budgeting over the next couple of years.
  • Evaluating and prioritizing existing programs, cutting those that contribute the least.
  • Establishing core values around which financial decisions will be made.
  • Requiring principals to align proposed spending with core values and goals.

Now, let’s compare the School Board with the Ashland City Council, which faces similar problems. What is their plan to prepare for dark financial clouds on the horizon? From what we can tell, there isn’t one. In fact, there’s little acknowledgment of the dark clouds.

As Ashland gets ready for the 2019-’21 biennium budget process beginning next year, let’s hope the mayor and council follow the lead of the School Board and also find a cost-conscious, financially responsible way to serve the interests of all Ashlanders.

Susan T. Wilson

Ashland

Spread vote-by-mail

This Thanksgiving I gave thanks for living in Oregon where we all vote by mail. No standing in long lines in the rain and no unfair obstacles for working families or people with disabilities or those who live where polling stations have been shut down. Also, no worries about whether the voting machines will work properly or have been tampered with. In the recent November election, machines were shutting down in New York due to humidity while in certain counties in Texas these digital devices were blamed for switching votes from Democratic to Republican.

Here in Oregon we can vote weeks ahead of time or at the last minute — and do so in the comfort of our home. Plus, every ballot is its own paper trail, un-hackable and ready to be accurately recounted when necessary. This pioneering state of ours became the first all-vote-by-mail state in the country back in 2000. Since then it has consistently ranked among the states that have the highest voter turnout rates.

Why not spread this Oregon way of voting to the rest of the country? Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden has been introducing bills to do just this since 2007. Last year he was joined by Oregon’s other senator, Jeff Merkley, plus three members of the House from Oregon in introducing a similar bill. They’re now collecting signatures again. Contact Wyden’s or Merkley’s offices to find out how you can sign the petition or otherwise support this movement to turn the tide of voter suppression that so marred the Nov. 6 election.

Carolyn Shaffer

Ashland

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