Union Democrat staff

A unified district

To the editor:

Francine Lettmann, why is it you fail to mention in your letters to various newspapers that you work part time for the superintendent of the Big Oak Flat-Groveland School District?

(Lettmann is a substitute secretary at Don Pedro High School - Editor)

I'm tired of people pitting one school against another. It is unethical and a ploy used to save a board which will soon be voted out and the superintendent who will be let go. Several teachers at Tioga High School formerly taught at Don Pedro High. When I was director of the district's community day school I persuaded the state to grant us a second community day school at Don Pedro and we were the only district to have two such schools in California.

I've taught some of their students, I've attended graduations there as well. My daughter-in-law's mother is a retired teacher from Don Pedro High, and my daughter-in-law graduated with honors at the same school. Many of the students at Don Pedro are graduates of Tenaya Elementary School.

As the good book says, Francine, "a house divided falls." It's not them against us (the Hatfields and the McCoys), we are a unified school district. Let's follow President Obama's call to unify America. It starts at home.

Robert D. Wilson

Valenzuela City, Philippines

(Robert Wilson is a retired Big Oak Flat-Groveland School District teacher and the father of three district students).

Reduce herbicides

To the editor:

Your Jan. 19 article revealed that SPI applies thousands of pounds of chemicals on private timberlands in our local mountains. Those chemical treatments kill competing vegetation so tree-farm conifers can grow faster.

SPI's spokesman was quoted as saying that farmers use far more chemicals in their agricultural fields - implying that SPI's chemical use poses less risk. But SPI sprays forest mountainsides - not flat farmland in the Central Valley. Our local forests provide homes to 350 kinds of wildlife, including many that suffer when wildflowers, grasses, ferns and bushes are killed by herbicide treatments.

SPI's often-steep timberlands contribute run-off into streams and rivers that feed local reservoirs. No matter what you believe about the alleged safety or hazards of herbicides, the fact is they work. They kill native vegetation and leave many SPI sites nearly denuded for many years after clearcutting.

Over nearly two decades, staff scientists with our organization (the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center) have visited SPI clearcuts and even U.S. Forest Service herbicide spray sites. It has been clear that denuded hillsides do result in increased erosion and, obviously, less habitat available for wildlife. What is not clear is whether trace amounts of atrazine, simazine, hexazinone, triclopyr, 2,4-D, and other herbicides that may wash into streams actually combine cumulatively to cause any significant health risks. Chemical company studies simply haven't been done for all the various combined chemical mixtures that potentially end up at low levels in mountain waters.

Local forests have grown for centuries without chemical treatments. CSERC strongly opposes the widespread, routine use of herbicides and respectfully urges SPI to consider ways to reduce its chemical use.

John Buckley,

executive director, CSERC

Twain Harte

PERS perspective

To the editor:

The Jan. 5 Union Democrat editorial conveniently omits several facts about PERS. Some letters have cleared up many facts. But the fact is that the responsibility for failure of budgets lay with agency managers, not employees.

Public agency employers pay zero PERS retirement contributions in good times. That's right folks, employees keep contributing (I pay 9 percent) while most employers pay nothing or very little. Like drunken sailors, state, county and local government agencies spend money like it is never going to end. Now, the stock market is down, money is tight and PERS had to raise its employer contribution rates to match the level of their investments and actuarial tables. That's the way it works.

The alternative to PERS? Gov. Schwarzennegger talks about contribution driven vs. benefit driven retirements. The first assumes that employees should manage their own individual retirement funds. The cost-per-employee with PERS (about $83 per year) is much lower than private management (3 to 7 percent).

I question the motives of those who cry for PERS demise. Who really stands to benefit? Certainly not the employee.

I have been a public employee for over 25 years. I have seen this movie before. Share with employees when times are good, fail to plan for a rainy day when the money is rolling in, and then blame employee benefits for budget problems when times are bad. Sadly, like the legislation placed to protect PERS funds, legislation will have to be created to ensure that public agency managers are required to act responsibly by "dollar cost averaging" their contributions, forcing them to plan for the lean times.

Michael Quenneville