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Teachers protest school district's cost-saving measure

St. Helens school district teachers protested the first of the district’s eight scheduled furlough days, hoisting signs on busy street corners Sept. 28.

“We’re not mad at anybody,” said Teachers’ Union President Keith Meeuwsen.by: KATIE WILSON - St. Helens School District teachers protest the first of eight scheduled furlough days on Sept. 28 at the corner of Gable Road and Highway 30 near the high school. The furlough days are districtwide, affecting all school district employees.

He said they want to send the Oregon Legislature a message and get word out to parents. Meeuwsen stood with other teachers, chatting and holding signs while passing cars honked encouragement at the busy Gable Road and Highway 30 intersection near the high school.

During budget discussions in May, district Superintendent Mark Davalos called the eight reduced work days for all school district staff an unfortunate “sign of the times.” The reductions will save the district an estimated $75,000 per furlough day, according to budget documents.

But for parents who may need to find other childcare options on those days and district employees who are losing pay, the reductions carry many different implications.

“It’s hurting everyone,” said Annette McCoy, who teaches fifth grade.

She and other teachers are also worried about the cost to students.

As the state pushes for higher standards in the classroom, teachers are trying to fit more into every school day, McCoy said. She has restructured her classes as a result.

“Kids aren’t happy about the hours they are losing out on,” she said, adding that there’s more work but less time.

Her own kids understand the situation probably a little better than other students whose parents aren’t teachers, McCoy said. For many other students, the furlough days might seem like welcome, school-free days.

St. Helens High School Guidance Counselor Kerry Marshall is also worried the lost days will contribute to low graduation rates if seniors aren’t getting the classroom time they need to pass their tests.

As the new graduation standards in reading, writing and math continue to roll out from the state, students are expected to achieve higher levels of proficiency and school districts have been scrambling to figure out how to meet these goals.

“And here we are,” Meeuwsen said. “The kids are at home and they want us to raise standards and do a better job, and we’re not in school.”