By now, the devastating effects of Oregon’s school budget are no longer an abstract discussion. Educators across the state are face-to-face with the crushing reality of what this budget means in our buildings.
Everything we’ve worked for over the past several years is on the chopping block. Counselors, media specialists, smaller class sizes, EA support—all slashed. What this means for our schools is heartbreaking.
These cuts should come as no surprise. We were clear with elected leaders and the public that our tax system is broken and it’s long past time for corporations to pay their fair share. Without additional revenue—the kind Measure 97 offered—proposed cuts were predictable.
But none of this means these cuts are inevitable. We have a broken revenue system in Oregon, and our elected officials can fix it. But they aren’t going to do that unless we make them. Many of you worked extremely hard to get Measure 97 on the ballot and see it passed. Unfortunately, there are plenty of politicians out there who hope that, after falling short in November, we’ll just give up, that we’ll lower our expectations and settle for whatever half-measures they come up with in Salem.
But we can’t let their cynicism upstage what’s best for our students. That means we’re going to have to work just as hard as we did this fall, probably even harder, to keep the legislature from erasing the modest gains we’ve made over the past few years. Cuts aren’t inevitable, not by a long shot. But the only way we can beat them is by standing up, together.
TAKE ACTION IN SALEM
In the coming weeks there will be plenty of opportunities to do something about this untenable situation. Over Spring Break, while principals are figuring out what cuts and unassignments they’ll make next year, wouldn’t you like to fight back? Start Spring Break off right by joining us in Salem. No one can explain how these cuts will hit the classroom better than frontline educators, so make plans to join us for Lobby Day, Monday, March 27th at Salem Convention Center, 200 Commercial St SE, Salem, OR 97301.
SWINGING THE SCHOOL BOARD
There’s no doubt that most of our fiscal problems start in Salem, like the corporate tax giveaway Kitzhaber handed to Nike a few years back. However, the decisions that our District leaders and the School Board make can either minimize the damage or make things a whole lot worse.
For example, given all this talk of cuts, why aren’t we revisiting the high school schedule? If the District would move back to a 5-of-7 schedule for high schools, we could keep class sizes down and reduce cuts in elementary and middle grades. Yet they refuse.
What about the School Board? Not only did two Board members oppose Measure 97, and effectively keep the Board from taking an official position, several Board members supported Measure 98, which is funneling away more money for schools! We need a School Board that is going to fight for stable funding for our schools and isn’t afraid to take on corporations. Now we’ve got Board members pushing to increase the PPS reserves, instead of using the reserves we have to protect our students from potentially devastating cuts.
This makes the School Board races in May even more important. We have three open seats and, once again, we need everyone to get involved and get political. Our endorsed candidates include a public school teacher, several PPS parents, a union member, and fierce advocates for corporations to pay their fair share.
Whoever wins will not only set our salaries and work closely with our next Superintendent, their decisions will shape our working conditions and our students’ learning conditions for years to come. Unfortunately, our future champions are facing off against candidates backed by Stand for Children, the Waltons, and the Portland Business Alliance. We know that the only way to beat organized money is with organized people, so please get involved.
OPENING UP COMMUNICATION
With budget cuts looming and big-money candidates vying for open School Board seats, we’re stepping up our efforts to get our message to every member and tighten up our lines of communication. We’ve started by printing out copies of The Advocate, in addition to emailing them. Building reps should be distributing copies every two weeks, so make sure to review the newsletter as well as our Bargaining Briefs.
Make sure you have a building rep attending the RA every month, and make sure you’re holding ten-minute meetings in your buildings afterwards, so we can get the latest news and information into your hands.
When the rep structure is working, everyone is up-to-date and informed. And we realize that our most important way of communicating—via the building rep structure—is being compromised by all the cancelled staff meetings. That’s why we’re asking reps to continue holding ten-minute meetings even where there are no staff meetings, and it’s why you need to attend.
I know it’s not the best of times right now, but we didn’t organize PAT just for when times are rosy. Our union is here to fight for what is right, and we’re not giving up. There is time to get Salem to fund our schools. There is time to elect a pro-public-school School Board. Together, we can do this.