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Teachers await action on education funding


Democrats, Republicans offer differing proposals

Two plans for funding Oregon’s public education system were released Monday, March 4, by members of the Legislature.

But for members of the Estacada Education Association, the union that represents teachers in the local school district, decisions regarding funding levels can’t be made quickly enough.

The EEA took out a full-page advertisement in the Feb. 21 issue of the Estacada News, which detailed what union members describe as sacrifices that teachers have made over the past several years, and urging readers to contact lawmakers about education funding.

Gov. John Kitzhaber’s original proposed budget for the 2013-15 biennium set aside $6.15 billion for education. A proposal released March 4 by Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, and Sen. Richard Devlin, D-Tualatin, set that level at $6.55 billion. Buckley and Devlin are co-chairs of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee.

Not to be outdone, Republican legislators released an alternative budget proposal hours later.

EEA President Steve Christiansen, who teaches band and drama at the high school, said the approval of the governor’s proposed education budget would result in the loss of 10 percent of the district’s staff and larger class sizes.

Funding for kindergarten through the end of high school used to comprise 46 percent of the state’s budget, Christiansen said, but now is at 37 percent. The governor’s recommended budget puts it even lower at 36 percent, he added.

Christiansen said that any cuts made by the district would influence teachers who have only been in the local schools for three to four years. Over the years, he’s seen many teachers be trained in the district and begin their careers in Estacada, only to move on right afterward.

“Stable staffing is really good for the kids,” Christiansen said.

Cuts would also affect programs like music, he said, which would contribute further to the district’s declining enrollment.

Teachers face the task of raising standards and test scores while losing days, Christiansen said.

“That’s not good for the kids,” he said. “That’s not good for us.”

EEA vice-president Dante Torgersen teaches computer and science classes at the junior high. He said the ad taken out by the EEA was a “response to years of making concessions.”

“Those concessions have helped keep the water calm,” Torgersen said. “But people don’t know what goes into keeping our class sizes small.”

Christiansen said that teachers are paid by experience and education levels. However, no experience steps have been given in the district for two years. He estimates that two-thirds of the district’s teachers are due those step increases.

Of course, most of the funding for the district comes from the state. And while education funding proposals have been released, lawmakers still have a lot of work to do on the state’s budget.

According to a March 4 press release, the Republican plan “initially increases K-12 education funding by 14.6 percent, yet schools would have the equivalent of $7.14 billion to spend if the Legislature passes reasonable PERS reforms.”

House Republican Leader Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, who also is a member of the Ways and Means committee, said he had concerns about the budget proposal put forth by Buckley and Devlin.

“The co-chairs' budget is balanced on assumed tax increases, assumed cuts to our corrections system and cosmetic PERS measures that merely kick the can down the road,” McLane said. “We’re prepared to work with Democrats on a budget that doesn’t hurt our economy or our public safety, but one that sustains essential services throughout the biennium. Republicans will work to make K-12 schools the highest priority in the state budget, and we’ll continue to call for reasonable PERS reforms that help our school districts over the long term.”