Merced Sun-Star Opinion: Higher education shines here in Merced County

May 30, 2013 

Educational attainment, or the lack of it, has long been a problem for Merced and other Northern San Joaquin Valley counties. It's that lack of academic firepower that often gets the blame for the region's inability to attract businesses that could provide the economic diversity needed to help insulate the valley from severe downturns in the future. But the graduation of more than 1,000 students at UC Merced and another 1,000-plus from Merced College in the last week is proof young people and their families have embraced the value of higher education. And while there's still much work to be done, it's essential to acknowledge the accomplishments of those students and the progress they've brought to the region. Young people from throughout Merced County, the rest of the valley and state are being attracted to the educational opportunities here, whether it's UC Merced or Merced College. That's the kind of academic awakening that promises to improve prospects for students, their families and the entire community. These graduates have laid an important foundation that those who follow them can build upon. They are to be commended for their hard work, dedication and commitment in pursuing their educations. For that, we salute them.

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Merced County officials are right to move slowly and carefully when considering dramatic changes to landfill operations. Plans to sell off excess equipment and lay off about a dozen workers deserve plenty of public scrutiny. In Merced County, with its stubbornly high unemployment rate, the elimination of any jobs shouldn't be fast-tracked. Elected officials were correct in questioning a consultant's recommendations to the Merced County Association of Governments regarding landfill operations. Consultants look at numbers, but public officials must look deeper. Are there other ways to save money at the landfills? Are furloughs an option? Can other communities pay Merced County for the right to use some of its landfill capacity? Before there's any move to cut jobs, those questions and more need to be asked -- and answered. If there aren't any good alternatives, drastic measures may need to be taken. But MCAG board members are right to press the staff and the consultant for more information. And no matter how it plays out, it needs to play out in public so everyone knows the reasoning for decisions regarding the landfills.

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