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Teachers 'start all over'

After Kitzhaber's vetoes, Ashland will ask the union to waive 30-day waiting period for layoffs

Jackson County teachers were quietly preparing for the start of school in three weeks when the bad news came.

— — — — — Related story:

Vetoes earn OK from Rep. Bates — — On Wednesday, Gov. John Kitzhaber vetoed legislation, wiping out &

36;317 million for education and instantly creating a sense of chaos over plans for the coming school year.

We'll have to throw out everything we started last spring and start all over, said Leeanne Wallace, president of the Ashland teachers' union. It's an enormous mess.

South Medford High science teacher Stephen Jensen, who remains confident the governor's veto will be overturned by the Legislature, said, I can't imagine any less teachers in Medford.

Other Jackson County teachers share these sentiments as they prepare for the next school year, while realizing that more jobs may be on the line.

Ashland Superintendent Juli DiChiro, faced with &

36;1.5 million more in cuts, will ask the teachers' union to waive the required 30-day notification period before layoffs take effect.

However, Wallace said the union won't automatically grant the waiver. Union officials will want to thoroughly discuss the budget situation with district officials.

Wallace said the potential of more layoffs is particularly distressing since teachers had laid out plans in the spring after 10 percent of the teaching staff was eliminated from an earlier cutback.

Wallace said Ashland could save &

36;380,000 by seeking a waiver from the state to further shorten the school year by as much as five days. But the idea remains in limbo as the district awaits word from the Oregon Department of Education about whether that would also result in a drop in funding.

Wallace said more trouble is in the offing: As students begin scheduling classes on Aug. 19, there is the potential that certain classes could later be dropped because of cutbacks.

Wallace says she understands the governor's rationale for the veto, but adds, We feel a little blindsided because of the timing.

The Medford district, which has eliminated 10 percent of its teaching staff in the past two years because of budget cuts, is looking at &

36;5 million in reductions.

Because of the previous cuts, South Medford's Jensen said high school teachers already plan to take on six classrooms instead of five this fall, pushing the student load from 150 to 180 in some cases.

When your workload goes up, your enthusiasm is dampened by the realization that there are so many things you're not going to do in a classroom, he said.

Teachers are forced to do more multiple-choice testing and what some educators refer to as shut up and color work, said Jensen. Because of the number of students, Jensen said, It makes some of the hands-on work impossible.

Jensen thinks the governor is trying to send a message that education funding in Oregon is a mess, while realizing that the Legislature will overturn his veto. I think he's gambling that it will get overridden, he said.

Even if the district is forced to make cuts, Jensen said teachers will eventually adjust. We're going to get through it and we have a lot of confidence in the administration at the high school and the Medford School District, he said.

If the veto stands, schools will have to look at shorter years and layoffs, said Jim Bond of the local Oregon Education Association office.

Medford has made all the attrition and reassignments they can make, so their only solution is layoffs, he said.

Bond said the OEA, which represents teachers throughout the state, believes the legislative budget plan is badly conceived, but added, We're not in fundamental disagreement with the governor, but in the short term, we can't sustain the cuts.

Sen. Lenn Hannon, R-Ashland, said teachers and administrators have good reason to be mad about the fiscal mess, which he blames on the governor. It's an untenable situation for schools, he said.

Hannon does have some consolation for educators hashing out budget strategies.

I would bet on the veto being overturned, he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail