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'I'm here for the kids'

SALEM — Hundreds of public employees asked the Oregon Legislature to maintain funding for schools, prisons and workers who provide in-home care to seniors, using the Presidents Day holiday to rally at the state Capitol on Monday.

Public employee unions were joined by environmental groups, Occupy organizations and other activists in a demonstration that was more a general display of liberal discontent than a show of solidarity behind specific demands.

A busload of teachers, union members and parents made the trip to Salem from Medford, Ashland, Central Point and Grants Pass.

One of the teachers who attended the rally was Chris Geankoplis, a teacher at Hedrick Middle School in Medford.

"I'm here for the kids," he said. "I don't mind driving a couple hundred miles in a day and standing in the rain if it's going to make a difference."

He urged the state to take an interest in how schools are being funded.

"I would like to see them just restore the percentage spent on education," Geankoplis said. "The size of the pie has gotten smaller because of the economy. We all understand that. But, prior to that, it was 43 percent of a 2-pound pie. Do your math. It's now 37 percent of a 1-pound pie. And, I think the cuts taken out of education hurt the kids."

Timothy Trunkey, a 42-year-old father of five from Roseburg, also wanted funding for schools preserved, so he held a handwritten sign that stated, "children first."

"I know sometimes it's necessary to make cuts, but I'm holding this sign because this is something that they shouldn't touch," Trunkey said.

Lawmakers are contemplating steep budget cuts to make up for a $340 million shortfall in projected tax revenue. They've all but eliminated the possibility of cutting school funding but are looking at closing a prison in Salem and reducing pay and benefits for workers who provide in-home care for seniors.

Legislative budget leaders repeatedly have said they don't want to cut funding but must ensure that the state isn't spending more money than it's collecting.

Gov. John Kitzhaber and some interest groups have asked the Legislature to spend down reserves to reduce funding cuts. Key legislators want to trim the ranks of middle management, hoping to reduce the long-term cost of government and deliver services more efficiently.

Holding a sign that said "stop the madness," Sandy Jung of Albany said she was protesting cuts to workers who care for seniors and people with disabilities — a job she's done for more than two years. Her bottom line can't take many more cuts, she said, but she's committed to continuing her work for two clients who depend on her.

"I'd probably have to move in with a family member," said Jung, 57. "I'm living paycheck to paycheck right now."

Salem freelancer Steve Lindsley contributed to this report for the Mail Tribune.

Hundreds gather at the Oregon Capitol to hold a Presidents Day rally in support of funding for education, prisons and in-home care workers, among other causes. Steve Lindsley / for the Mail Tribune