'No more cuts'
Local teachers have money on their minds — and they want the state Legislature to know it.
Dressed in red and equipped with signs bearing messages such as “WTF: Where’s the Funding?” and “My students are worth it!” a sea of Medford educators and supporters marched through the city as part of a statewide demonstration in favor of increased education funding.
“We know what works,” said Karen Starchvick, Medford School Board member and speaker at the march’s kickoff from Central Medford High School. “We just need the collective will to fund it.”
Across the Rogue Valley, from Eagle Point to Talent and Ashland, educators participated in the statewide “Day of Action” organized by the state’s teachers union, the Oregon Education Association.
Thousands of teachers demonstrated across Oregon, including about 1,500 in Salem who marched to the state Capitol chanting, “Do your job!” in a message to Republican senators who intentionally stalled a vote on a Democrat-backed education funding bill that would create a new business tax.
Portland Public Schools, Eugene School District, Woodburn School District and others canceled classes, planning to make up a day later in the year.
Medford’s after-school march may have been a compromise between the Medford Education Association — which initially planned a walkout during school hours — and the school district, but the passion in speakers’ voices made clear their frustration with compromising in the classroom.
Jaquelyn Case, incoming Ashland Education Association president and Ashland High School teacher, spoke about the challenges of being asked to do more with less.
“I don’t see how we can take any more,” she said to the crowd of hundreds at Alba Park.
Case said that teachers are increasingly called to step in for kids dealing with trauma from their home lives, be it from drug addiction, poverty or abuse.
Class sizes was another recurring topic. Kelsey Miller, a fourth-grade teacher at Jackson Elementary School who attended the march, said that she has had more than 30 students in her classroom at a time during her career.
Troy Pomeroy, president of the Medford Education Association, spoke about the changes he’s seen at Hedrick Middle School during the 29 years he has worked there as a math teacher.
Since 1990, he said, he’s seen programs from French to graphic arts, calligraphy and journalism be cut, he said.
“The music program was always on the chopping block, often only being saved by the advocacy of our parents,” he said.
Speakers repeatedly urged attendees to throw their support behind the Student Success Act, which would funnel an additional $1 billion annually toward education by imposing a tax on C corporation businesses’ sales of over $1 million.
They chastised Republican senators who stayed away from the Capitol Wednesday so that a vote on House Bill 3427 couldn’t proceed. Republicans have said that the bill will create a de facto sales tax and doesn’t address increasing costs from the Public Employees Retirement System.
“I get that bills are not always perfect,” Starchvick said. “But let’s get back to the table and fix what needs fixing. That’s what we elect you to do.”
Even as students and teachers have applauded the Student Success Act, they decided to demonstrate because they said Oregon doesn’t have a long-term funding fix in the works yet.
Since Oregon voters placed limits on property taxes in the 1990s, its schools have become increasingly dependent on more volatile funding sources, such as income taxes. Revenue has lagged behind rising costs.
Meanwhile, the deficit in the state’s pension system has ballooned to $25 billion, placing increased pressure on school districts with every budget.
Medford, for example, expects to see 83 percent of its projected $5.8 million increase in next year’s budget (calculated before the Student Success Act hit the House floor) to be eaten up by employee payroll benefits.
Ashland, meanwhile, projects a 7% budget cut next year, according to a release from the AEA.
Michas Hernandez, an Ashland parent and speaker at the event, said she doesn’t want to see any more cuts to programs and staff at her kids’ school, John Muir.
“It’s like we’re the Whos down in Whoville, holding it together after the Grinch has pretty much taken everything away,” she said. “We’ve reached our boiling point, and we’re not going to take it anymore. No more cuts.”
The crowd chanted “Fund our schools!” as she left the podium.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.