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Teacher layoffs move forward

Teachers and parents packed the Tigard-Tualatin School Board meeting Monday, spilling out into hallways and carrying signs that read, 'Still working, always caring.'

The crowd was on hand to show their support for Tigard-Tualatin's teachers, who have been negotiating a contract with the district for almost a year.

The district announced last week that they were considering cutting 52 licensed positions in the district, which includes teachers and school librarians.

Many teachers and their supporters spoke to the board about the need to resolve the negotiations.

By the end of the meeting, a handful of signs were still tacked to walls and taped to windows.

The teachers union and the district are currently midway through a month-long 'cooling off' period after the teachers union the Tigard-Tualatin Education Association declared an impasse in negotiations with the district.

Working conditions, wage increases and health benefits remain unresolved between the two groups.

Board Chair Jill Zurschmeide told the throng of teachers that it comes down to a balancing act.

'There is a very fine balancing point between compensating our teachers who work hard and we want to make sure they are well paid, and the fact that we know we are cutting millions from next year's budget,' she said.

Layoffs across the board

The board gave the go-ahead for a 'reduction in force' declaration, which starts the process of laying off district employees. Supt. Rob Saxton has said that more than 90 positions could be eliminated next year to help balance the district's $9.5 million budget shortfall.

The layoffs would affect every employee group, though definite numbers aren't available yet. Proposed layoffs include 35 classified staff, two administrative positions, two other managers and about 52 licensed staff, which includes teachers, nurses and school librarians.

'It's not going to be pretty next year,' board member Dana Terhune said. 'It's not going to be pretty for the next four years, probably.'

This is the third year in a row that the district has had to lay off employees. Last year the district let go of its elementary school library assistants.

'We don't like it one bit,' Zurschmeide said. 'But we're going to have to (lay some people off). I don't want anyone to think that we are enjoying this one shred because we are not.'

Pink slips won't be issued for many months yet, but the declaration begins the process of informing employees of the possibility of layoffs.

'We would have to do this if we were laying off just one employee,' board member Barry Albertson said.

Bond set for May ballot

The board also approved putting a $20 million bond measure on the May ballot. The money would purchase textbooks for the district and make building repairs - including replacing the roofs at Tualatin High School and Hazelbrook Middle School - as well as purchasing technology improvements across the district.

'At a time when the economy is not good and asking our voters to pay more taxes doesn't seem that logical, this strikes me as very logical,' Zurschmeide said.

With $9.5 million in cuts on the table there isn't room in the budget to purchase textbooks or make building repairs, Zurschmeide said.

'Textbooks will almost certainly be cut out of the budget next year,' she said.

The bond would cost voters 36 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. But because older school bonds recently expired in the district, Zurschmeide said that residents should not feel too much of an impact.

The proposed bond would bring in an extra 8 cents per $1,000 if approved, or $16 per year in property taxes for the owner of a $200,000 home.