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Beaver Hill Road will reopen next week

COOS COUNTY — East Beaver Hill Road is still planning on opening next week despite last week’s rain storm slowing construction.

Coos County Road Department Roadmaster John Rowe reported to county commissioners yesterday that the rerouting project, scheduled to be open to traffic Nov. 1, is slated to finish on time.

“Knife River, the contractor for east Beaver Hill, was slowed down a little bit by this past weekend’s weather. They’re making up for the time lost and they’re still targeting to complete the work by Oct. 31,” Coos County Commissioner John Sweet said.

It's important to note that the November is when the road will be accessible to traffic, work on the road will continue for some time after it's finished. 

If construction crews hadn’t lost time to the weather they would be ahead of schedule.

Since it was awarded the grant, Knife River has been putting in 12-hour shifts, six days a week. Anticipating this contract, Knife River had equipment out on the construction site before it was awarded to them.

“They have been working really hard at it. It’s turning out to be a great project and we’re very proud of John Rowe for seeking out and getting emergency funds to do this,” Sweet said.

The road’s rerouting is the result of heavy rains last winter which caused parts of the road to be washed out in a landslide.

When the original road was built, land was filled in on the hillside to make the path. After years of use and heavy rains, that filled in, the land gave way.

Motorists who use the passage as a cut across from Highway 42 to Highway 101, and vice versa, are upset that it took so long for the reroute to begin construction. Construction on the road was delayed because the county was waiting on emergency relief from the federal government.

The use of federal grants may not be as timely of a process, but ultimately will give residents a better built road. Federal funds are accompanied by federal oversight, which has a higher standard of engineering than the county.

“If we had of done the work ourselves we could have started in June or so. They didn’t get started untill Oct. 1, but it saved the county well over $1.5 million,” Sweet said.  

Rerouting the road to an old logging road proved to be cheaper than repairing the old damaged road. The logging road lies within Coos County Forest land. The 40 acres along north of the logging road were sold prior to the slide to Roseburg Forest Products, who planned to log the area within the next couple years.

“One of the things we had to do to put the road through there was get the sale area with Roseburg logged. Roseburg planned to log it two years from now, but they moved their plans forward and did the logging this year. With their cooperation we were able to get the route cleared,” Sweet said.

After the landslide, some county residents believed that recent logging in the valley underneath the road might have aided in the landslide.

“Upon further inspection, it showed that logging had nothing to do with it. It was only the fill parts that slid out, because we had an inordinate amount of rain. That type of slide activity was pretty prevalent up and down the west coast,” Sweet said. 

Forum puts BEST Bond under spotlight
League of Women Voters held a forum Tuesday night about Coos Bay BEST Bond

COOS BAY – The Coos Bay School BEST Bond was up for public scrutiny Tuesday night.

The League of Women Voters hosted a forum with BEST Bond Chairman and school board member James Martin. The bond is appearing on the Coos Bay ballot for the Nov. 7 election, asking for $59.9 million.

If passed, the bond will survive for 25 years before being taken off local property taxes. During that term, it is estimated that there will be a property tax increase of $1.60 per year of each $1,000 assessed value, which is down from the amount estimated in the May ballot.

League of Women Voters President Sue Thornton hoped the event would provide information for the public and answer questions before next month’s election.

“Every forum we present, from candidates or public votes, we always try to provide as much information as we can,” Thornton said. “Had we known ahead of time a group organizing in opposition of the bond, we would have invited a speaker from them as well.”

Thornton referenced the local Republican Party that held a protest against the bond on Saturday. Though event organizers anticipated more protesters Tuesday night, none showed.

Martin fielded questions from a small crowd in the Coos Bay City Council chambers, covering topics from why the bond is necessary to dispelling rumors.

One of the questions asked if bond funds could be used for other things rather than the intended capital projects.

“That is flatly wrong,” Martin said off the bat. “State law covers bond funds. Capital projects are limited to things that last one year or longer, which rules out salary. Bonds would never go to administration or anything else but capital projects. Can we use it for other things? No. It’s illegal.”

Martin explained that the public can ensure proper use of bond funds through yearly state audits and a transparent budget process.

“You can look at the numbers on our website and go back through the last several years because everything we do is public,” he said. “There’s a series of protections in place, but it’s everybody’s job if this passes to be a watchdog.”

Martin was also asked why property owners have to pay for school facilities and whether or not the projects can be paid through marijuana taxes or lottery money.

“Property taxes typically pay for things that make it worthwhile to live in a particular area,” Martin explained. “They pay for police, fire, roads and public schools, things that make a community functional and viable.”

He admitted that no one wants to pay more property taxes, but that for most homeowners their  property values go up if the value of public schools go up.

“As to other revenue sources, the marijuana tax statewide is projected to be $80 or $90 million, which is to be split between all school districts so we will receive only a little, which won’t solve the problem,” he said. “Lottery money goes to Salem’s general fund for state revenue and the state divvies that up. That money does not go toward capital projects.”

During the forum, Martin also answered how buildings factor into quality education by stating that students learn better when the temperature is comfortable, when they aren’t distracted by leaky roofs and have a proper mix of fresh air.

“We know kids learn better when the acoustics are good too,” he said. “When it rains, it can be so loud in the classrooms that you can’t hear anything else.”

Martin told The World that he hopes the forum answered important questions from the community, but that this was not part of the campaign.

“This night is about facts,” he said.

State takes on chronic absenteeism in Coos County schools
Since receiving the TAPP grant, Coos Bay Schools saw a seven percent attendance increase in its Native population

COOS COUNTY — Chronic absenteeism in Coos County schools is on the rise.

According to the Oregon Department of Education, the number of chronically absent students has gone up since last year.

“The Regular Attenders Report showed that 80.3 percent of students are considered regular attenders, down from 81.3 percent the year before,”  a according to a press release from the ODE. “That means the chronically absent percentage increased from 18.7 percent to 19.7 percent.”

“We know that students who attend school regularly have more opportunity to learn, so tracking chronic absenteeism is critical,” said Acting State Deputy Superintendent Colt Gill. “There is a direct link between high instances of chronic absenteeism and low graduation rates; this is why chronic absenteeism is one of our school accountability measures in our Oregon Plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act and why Governor Brown and the Legislature have invested in programs to address the issue.”

According to the release, ODE is implementing a statewide chronic absenteeism plan focusing on “state-level support for local districts and communities to decrease chronic absenteeism and improve high school graduation.” The state Legislature appropriated $7.4 million for the current biennium to do this.

ODE also plans on using data with local partners to make collaborative decisions to decrease chronic absenteeism and improve high school graduation rates and most notably to establish “learning environments that address health-related barriers and opportunities to decrease chronic absenteeism and improve high school graduation.”

Of course, Coos County became one of the first recipients of the Tribal Attendance Pilot Project (TAPP) grant last year, which is the first of its kind to improve attendance for American Indian/Alaskan Native students “in collaboration with the nine federally recognized tribes in Oregon.”

Since receiving the grant, the Coos Bay School District hired Breana Landrum as an attendance advocate to work with the Coquille Tribe.

“Right now our schools are sitting at the state target of 92 percent for average daily attendance,” Breanna said. “Of course, when you look closer at that number, we have a 30 percent population at the elementary level that are chronically absent.”

To be chronically absent means a student is missing 10 percent of school.

“Though that doesn’t seem like much until you break it down,” Landrum said. “This school year is 171 days, so 10 percent is 17 days. That is over three weeks of school and when you start missing academic pieces and fall behind.”

Landrum and the district’s special program director, Lisa DeSalvio, said there is a culture surrounding elementary student education where parents often think missing a day of school here and there is no big deal.

“They think they can go to the zoo or fishing or take a week to visit Disneyland, but you can’t build a house before you build its foundation,” Landrum said. “Kindergarten is building a foundation to education.”

The TAPP grant’s focus may be to help Native students, but the Coquille Tribe has agreed to also spend its services to help all elementary-aged kids. However, Landrum is encouraging Native American parents to bring their children to school regularly with a reward system.

“We hold Native events through the year to build relationships,” Landrum said. “We had a reward day at the Pony Village Theater to watch a movie. If they didn’t meet the requirement to come, they were encouraged to touch base with us.”

Currently Landrum is most concerned with students who have already missed three-to-four days of school, which means they stand to not meet the yearly target of attended days.

“Of course that could also be that your kid got strep throat, so I’m just watching right now,” Landrum said.

Since being hired last year, Landrum and DeSalvio have seen an improvement in attendance. Of the district’s Native students, they saw a seven percent increase in attendance.

“Hopefully we will continue to see an improvement this year, but it’s hard to teach when there aren’t bodies in the chairs,” DeSalvio said.