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District shoulders brunt of Legislature's failure to adequately fund education

Years of hard times and shrinking resources have left little more than frayed nerves in Oregon's public schools.

This situation made contract negotiations with our teachers immeasurably more difficult. Still, the Reynolds School District and the Reynolds Education Association arrived at a balanced agreement that returned our teachers to their classrooms.

Before we move forward, however, here are five reflections on what I saw as chairwoman of the Reynolds School Board during this five-day strike:

• District was a target: Our district, one of the state's largest and poorest, managed to build significant cash reserves and a plan to fill some of the holes created by declining state funding over a three-year period. Unfortunately, this made the district a target.

This ultimately pitted prudent fiscal management of scarce taxpayer resources against escalating costs for both employers and workers.

Once this happened it became impossible to have a serious conversation about how to make the most of what we had for the benefit of our students.

• Emotions got in the way: Modern communications technologies make it far too easy for passion, anger and misinformation to overtake everything else.

This does a lot more than get in the way of meaningful and thoughtful negotiations over complex issues; it drives people to do things that in normal times they would not do.

• Personal attacks out of bounds: Leaders on all sides must declare personal attacks out of bounds. And they should certainly not use them to intimidate those across the negotiating table.

• The public cares: The public cares deeply about the quality of education and that money is well managed, even if they do not dive into the details of school management and finance.

Everyone with a role in our schools must respect this. The entire educational enterprise is endangered if we do not.

• Salem key to answers: Real solutions to our school finance and quality problems lie in Salem. As long as partisanship and regional self-interests dominate the Legislature, local boards across the state will have little more than Band-Aids at their disposal to cover the gaping wounds in our schools.

Turning the page

It's time to look forward to the coming year.

We are excited about the arrival of our new superintendent. Fresh leadership helps us put the strike behind us and allow us to face the future as a united community.

It also will help us retool our budget priorities. We'll have to make deeper cuts than we would have liked. Critical maintenance, the purchase of textbooks and other things will be delayed longer than we hoped. And, although we'll make every effort to avoid it, we may have to lay off employees to manage our budget.

I know our Reynolds community, our teachers, the board and our administration will come together to find solutions to these immediate challenges.

But more than anything else, I know school doors will open wide next fall to excited students. Once inside, our children will find a dedicated faculty ready to help them use education as their pathway to the future.

Theresa Delaney Davis is chairwoman of the Reynolds School Board.