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Union needs to grasp situation

I have followed with great interest the ongoing negotiations our school district is engaged in with the Gresham-Barlow Education Association (GBEA). As in every contract year, it seems the district does its best to offer fair and competitive salary and benefit packages, and the association (as expected) defends the teachers' position, bargaining for the best financial package they can get.

In years past, it was an obvious game of cat and mouse, as most negotiations tend to be, each side arguing its point. This year is of particular interest, as it does not take a genius to figure out that the state of Oregon resources are stretched beyond the breaking point and there is only so much money available to fund the K through 12 public school budget.

The school district has utilized all available means to balance the budget, including the use of PERS litigation funds and year-end balances to bring the budget deficit down to $5.7 million. To make up that budget shortfall, the district has proposed a five-day reduction to the year and the elimination of 46 staff positions.

These cuts are severe. One only needs to walk through the halls of most any school and see the classrooms filled beyond capacity and teachers' ability to teach strained to the breaking point.

The district's offer of a salary freeze and the above cuts would still result in a 2.7 percent increase in gross pay due to the status quo salary schedule and additional work days (eight days were cut last year). This would cost the district an additional $950,000, approximately, compared to last year.

The GBEA salary proposal includes cost of living, step increases and all eight days added back and would cost the district an additional $3.2 million.

Unless the association leadership has been living under a rock, they know this is not a viable position for the district.

What baffles me is they know by holding to this position, last year's salary and step increases kick in without a signed contract, thereby costing the district millions of dollars it does not have.

This selfish negotiating position is morally and financially reprehensible and warrants a public forum.

I have served in the district and am the first to acknowledge the tremendous work our teachers do with the limited resources provided. Compounded by increasing class sizes, lack of appropriate technology and delivery of more and more kids needing special attention or medications, it is becoming a career choice for the not so faint of heart.

However, that does not excuse the association from bleeding the district needlessly and thereby further depleting limited resources. Shame on the GBEA leadership for playing high stakes poker with our kids' education!

Jay Echternach is a resident of Gresham.