September 16, 2003 11:00 pm

Considering the state's financial dilemma, there hasn't been a lot of good news for schools of late. But La Grande and Elgin schools received an unexpected dose of good news last week with word that both districts' enrollment has increased. More students translates to more state reimbursements. But even more importantly, it bodes well for each community's future.

Districts throughout our region have been experiencing stagnant or declining enrollments for at least a decade. Loss of timber jobs is the main culprit, but birth trends factor in the equation as well.

La Grande's decline became so severe that it had to close two elementary schools in order to balance budgets; Elgin didn't have any extra schools to cut, so staffing levels were affected. The numbers reported to The Observer last week show signs of hope.

La Grande reported 52 more students districtwide than it had at the end of last school year. The numbers marked the second straight year for an increase after a decade of decline, one that included the high school dropping from the Class 4A to the 3A level. Elgin showed an even larger jump perentagewise, with 31 more students than it ended the school year with.

Union registered a 20-student jump from last year, but Superintendent Mike Wood said as the numbers level out the district's enrollment should be similar to last year. Wallowa saw five more students. Cove and North Powder are at about the same level as a year ago.

Enterprise AND ImBLEr are on the other end of the spectrum, both having lost 23 students since the end of last school year. Joseph lost four.

Nothing significant can be read into the numbers regionwide — not yet anyway. But the fact that some districts have registered an increase is, at the very least, a sign of hope.

Turn those lights on

Car manufacturers need to connect headlights to ignition switches. Ignition on — headlights on.

A majority of drivers seem to believe that everyone else on the road sees as well as they do, with better-than-perfect vision. These bright-eyed drivers head away from the sun in late afternoon with perfect vision ahead of them. Or when the rains start, their black, gray or tan vehicle is clean so it must be clearly visible, right? Some drivers forget that oncoming drivers are driving into a much dimmer horizon, or that in monochromatic light, many vehicle colors blend into the surrounding landscape, literally disappearing until split-seconds before disaster happens.

Several states have made it a legal requirement that if windshield wipers need to be turned on, so do headlights. The point is to be visible. It is not only a matter of seeing other vehicles, but being seen. Don't think about other drivers, think about yourself. Switch on those headlights and be seen!