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Teachers union's concerns are at odds with district needs

In Oregon, teachers' salaries, along with those of other public employees, are supported by property taxes paid by local homeowners as well as a portion of state personal income taxes. The complicated formula developed to redistribute these funds penalizes communities with low property values and high unemployment.

In Central Point, this means our students received $1,423 less per student per year than students in Ashland, $1,285 less than Phoenix-Talent, $1,049 less than Eagle Point and $485 less than Medford students for 2009-10. Cities like Klamath Falls, nearer to federal poverty levels, receive more federal support, and thus Central Point student funding trails Klamath Falls by $3,847 per student per year.

In Jackson County, unemployment is more than 13 percent and foreclosuresrank as some of the state's highest. The median household income for our area is $36,461. The average salary for public teachers for a 10-month contract is 30 percent higher.

Additionally, adjusted for inflation, the state of Oregon now spends $1,000 per student less on K-12 schools than it did in 1990-91. Since 2003, Oregon's general fund and lottery budget have spent far more on human services, public safety and other budget categories than on education.

On March 24, the Oregon Senate overwhelmingly passed Senate Bill 248, requiring districts to offer free full-day kindergarten by 2015. This mandate comes with no additional funding. Earlier, on Feb. 1, Gov. John Kitzhaber allocated $5.56 billion for education, a $200 million reduction in funding across Oregon for the 2011-12 school year.

For Central Point School District 6, this amounts to an approximately $5 million reduction in the $36 million annual budget. Salaries and benefits account for 90 percent of our district's budget. To accommodate the state reductions, we must cut 72 of our 208 teaching positions or reduce the school year by 48 instructional days.

In Central Point, for every school day cut, we save $110,000. Every 13-15 teachers eliminated saves $1 million.

Our district has suffered three consecutive years of state reductions. To retain classroom teachers, we instituted a four-day school week in 2009-10. We cut middle school athletics and elementary music in 2010-11 and have cut teachers and administrators several years running.

With the projected state reductions, we will need to lay off more teachers as well as eliminate more programs. Infrastructure repairs will again be delayed, and we may likely see high school classes averaging 47 students this fall.

In yet another ill-conceived plan, our school board will not even have final state budget reductions until the budget is published July 15 — a brief six weeks before school doors open in September. The turmoil and stress is taking its toll on students, parents and teachers alike.

The Southern Oregon Bargaining Council, whose members' employment is secure, represents our teachers, as well as every other public school teacher valley-wide. How many of these representatives even have students attending school locally?

As concerned community members, we must stop conducting "business as usual." The days where teachers and administrators are retained, not for effectiveness but for time served and graduate degrees earned, must stop.

Our test results are not where we want them, yet our teachers routinely get satisfactory or better ratings. The effort required to document poor performance and fire an ineffective teacher is extraordinary. Even then, we risk massive lawsuits and tie up countless hours that do not immediately contribute to classroom performance.

Parents certainly make a significant difference in students' lives, but exceptional teachers can overcome the odds and provide the stability and learning to give each student an education.

As we grapple with these realities, union regulations seem poised to defeat us at every turn. We must retain teachers based on a "last hired, first fired" principle regardless of results. We may not provide funds or labor to replace ancient roofs. Painting or cleaning our children's classrooms breaks union rules.

Despite graduate educations and experience as military officers, lawyers or business professionals, we would not be considered "highly qualified" teachers. Yet it is our tax dollars that fund excessive union dues supporting national and state causes we do not necessarily believe in.

I applaud the dedication of many of our seasoned teachers. However, it is these teachers who are overwhelmingly represented in contract negotiations. In most cases, their jobs are secure. Instead, many vibrant, driven teachers with less than four years' experience will be cut over the next few months. While we cannot deny the need for seasoned veterans, these young teachers are the future of our school district.

The state and federal educational system is broken and must be fixed now. In the interim, I am calling on our teachers' union to freeze cost-of-living allowances for retirees and agree to a 10 percent across-the-board pay cut. Our students cannot wait.

Lynn Gladman is a Central Point parent.