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Teachers and schools find middle ground

Teachers unions and administrators in Medford and Ashland have met halfway over employee rallies planned for May 8.

Both districts will modify class schedules Wednesday — already a shorter day in both districts — with demonstrations to be held after classes end.

In Medford, that meant switching the late-start schedule for high school and middle school students to the elementary schedule, which has a normal start time but releases students early.

“We’re very pleased to have landed on a compromise that allows students the instructional day but also allows staff and the community to come together for this cause,” said Natalie Hurd, communications specialist with the Medford School District.

The cause is a call for increased K-12 funding, as the state Legislature continues to craft the budget for the next biennium.

Even though the original recommendation out of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means was $8.9 billion, 8.18% higher than the previous two-year allocation of $8.2 billion, districts across the state, including Beaverton and Portland, plan to cut teaching staff.

Rising costs from the Public Employee Retirement System and health care benefits are squeezing even local school districts. Ashland anticipates a possible 7% reduction in its budget next year, a release from the Ashland Education Association said.

The Oregon Education Association called for local teachers to walk out during the school day May 8, which prompted school closures in Portland, Beaverton and Eugene, among others.

Local districts, however, balked at the idea of closing school, which would be necessary if enough teachers left their classrooms. Only around 90 to 120 teachers are available to substitute in a single day, according to the Medford School District.

“While Ashland School District shares the goal of adequate and stable education funding and advocates for providing the resources our students need, the district does not condone walkout strikes or other activities that disrupt learning for students,” wrote Kelly Raymond, superintendent of Ashland schools, in a letter to parents last week.

Medford administrators also voiced their lack of enthusiasm for a walkout that would force a school closure.

“We just don’t think closing school shows we support education,” said Cynthia Wright, chair of the Medford School Board. “We have a responsibility to our community to keep the doors open.”

The new plan will enable scheduled AP tests to continue as well as athletic and after-school activities, according to messages put out by both districts.

Ashland’s rally will be at Ashland Plaza at 1 p.m. Wednesday, following a march from the high school, Helman Elementary and Walker Elementary a half hour before.

Medford’s demonstration will kick off from Central Medford High School’s front lawn and move into a march to Alba Park, where a rally will begin at 3:15 p.m.

Hurd said that 2018 South Medford graduate Brian Josephson, who was one of the key student organizers involved with the local March for Our Lives last spring, will deliver the keynote speech. Troy Pomeroy, president of the Medford Education Association, will also speak.

“It’ll hopefully be a good community event that people can support,” Pomeroy said.

The Eagle Point Education Association is planning a rally at 3:45 p.m., according to a Facebook post. Demonstrators will march down a stretch of Highway 62 from Eagle Point High School wearing red to indicate solidarity with the message.

The demonstrations will take place even as the Legislature is making moves to increase education funding. Democrats in the Oregon House introduced H.B. 3427, which would use a new tax on business to fund an additional $1 billion in education funding.

The bill passed the House Wednesday. The Joint Committee on Student Success is reviewing it.

“We’re encouraged,” said Kate Kennedy, spokeswoman for the Ashland Education Association. “But we’re not done yet.”

“Every biennium we should not have to go out with our hat in our hands,” she said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Tonya Pomeroy, left, a second-grade teacher at Griffen Creek Elementary, and Allison Orton or the Oregon Education Association, rally on the Highway 62 freeway overpass Wednesday in Medford. Photo by Denise Baratta