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Board must keep its focus on highest priorities

by: contributed photo Dale Clark

The Gresham-Barlow School Board's first priority is to provide the best education possible for the community's young people. That's what guides every decision we make.

You have elected us to make the hard decisions that all Oregon school boards face this year when state funds are in short supply. We take that charge seriously. We are members of this community. Many of us have children in the school district and we do this work as volunteers.

Last week the teachers union notified the Gresham-Barlow School Board it plans to strike on Wednesday, April 25. This was a voluntary decision by the teachers union.

HOW WE GOT HERE

For almost a year the board and the teachers union have been at the negotiating table and have been unable to reach agreement on key issues. With no contract it has been impossible to create a viable budget for the upcoming school year.

The district's 2012-13 budget must be proposed to our budget committee on April 26 and adopted by the school board on June 30 to meet state law. Time had run out.

In the absence of an agreement with the teachers union the school board was forced to implement its last contract proposal. This decision was not taken lightly. It was not something we wanted to do. It was something we had to do.

Implementation does not mean an end to negotiations. The school board is steadfast in its desire to reach a settlement with the teachers union and we are continuing to work toward solutions.

There are three key issues that have yet to be settled.

KEY ISSUES

Teacher salary increases and prep time

The teachers union continues to ask for salary increases. For the board, that's not an option. The union's Feb. 10 proposal provided to the state mediator would force the district to cut 43 teachers or 16 school days next year. State funding does not support the salary increase demands.

The board and the union also have yet to agree on the number of hours our high school students should be learning in the classroom. Reduced state funding has forced the district to lay off teachers on all levels; so much so on the high school level that we cannot continue operating our current high school class schedule.

To do so and meet the state's instructional minutes requirements means either increasing class sizes or hiring additional high school teachers. Class sizes are already too high. Hiring additional high school teachers would cost the district more than $1 million. Money we don't have.

To maintain current class sizes and avoid increased staffing costs, the board has increased the amount of teaching time and decreased the amount of prep time for high school teachers. High school teachers will still have prep time - the same amount middle school teachers have had for several years.

Addressing concerns about school safety

Student safety has long been a top priority for the school board, the community and our staff members. However, the board does not believe that changing contract language, as demanded by the union, is the best way to reach that goal.

The board is working with a group of administrators, teachers and support staff to research and learn what the true issues are around classroom safety, research best practices and recommend to the school board a plan for next school year.

Improving student learning by providing more time for teachers to work together

The teachers union is focused on protecting individual teacher prep time and has not fully recognized the value of added time for teachers to work together to improve instruction. Teacher prep time at all levels is important, but we must find balance. That balance must support high-quality instruction that leads to increased student achievement.

Doing what is in the best interest of students and staff

A teachers strike would be devastating for our young people and for the community. This is the union's decision, not the school board's. The school board's implemented offer prevents teacher layoffs, prevents increases to class sizes, and provides a solid learning environment for our children while staying within the school district's budget.

We are asking for your support during this stressful time. It is time to reach an agreement with the teachers union that is consistent with financial realities and the community's priorities of preventing layoffs and maintaining class sizes.

We must focus on what's important and what voters have elected us to do-to provide the best educational opportunities possible for our young people while being fiscally responsible.

Dale Clark is chairman of the Gresham-Barlow School Board. He submitted this guest comment on behalf of the entire board.




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