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Schools deserve some stability

Classes of 39 tarnish Oregon's tradition of quality public education

The news in Eagle Point schools isn't good. It's not good in Central Point. And it's not much better in Medford, which is preparing to follow Eagle Point's lead in laying off teachers and boosting class sizes.

Eagle Point now holds the dubious distinction of having the largest class sizes in the state. When you stop to realize that statewide, Oregon class sizes already are 30 percent above the national average, that puts Eagle Point's classes among the largest in the country.

At first glance, the numbers don't seem too alarming, especially in light of the past few years of belt-tightening. Eagle Point has 28 students per class? Well, at least it's not 30.

But it is 30. And 39. The average of 28 misses the fact that every teacher does not teach every period, and students cannot be evenly spread among available classrooms.

A humanities teacher at Eagle Point Middle School has 39 in his first-period class. A science teacher sees a total of 198 students in his classes.

At those levels, no ordinary mortal can hope to provide quality education to each and every student. And isn't that what we want them to do?

— To say that this is unacceptable is an understatement of breathtaking proportions. This state is failing its children, and will go on doing so until a long-term solution is found.

The problem is not confined to Eagle Point. Medford school officials are contemplating cutting 35 teachers in the two middle schools and the two high schools, plus 13 elementary music teachers.

We don't want to hear about pots of money squirreled away, or rampant waste and overspending. If enough hidden dollars could be scraped together to retain dozens of teachers, school districts would be doing that. Instead, they are cutting muscle and bone.

The slowly reviving state economy may provide some small comfort to strapped schools, but it will fall far short of restoring what has been lost.

We don't have a magic solution to this appalling situation. But we do have a suggestion for the lawmakers who are now examining the state's tax structure.

An overhaul is long overdue. And any plan the interim committee comes up with should include a revenue source dedicated solely to public education.

Oregon voters approved shifting school funding from primarily local property taxes to the state. And there it has remained, supported by income tax revenues that are unreliable when the economy heads south.

Our public schools once were among the best in the country. That excellence is now threatened as never before.

Our schools deserve a stable, dedicated funding source that will keep them operating at the levels Oregonians once expected as a matter of course.