Tigard-Tualatin teachers rally for state funding
Tigard and Tualatin teachers gathered Monday night for a rally that attracted up to 45 educators hoping to draw attention for the need for greater school funding from the state.
Members of the Tigard-Tualatin Education Association, or TTEA, gathered at the Tigard-Tualatin School Board meeting to ensure that both parties passed a joint resolution asking for the Oregon Legislature to provide, among other things, funding to deal with such issues as crowded classrooms and resources required to deal with "disrupted learning" issues.
The 2019 legislative session began this month.
"We are underfunded," said Scott Herron, president of the Tigard-Tualatin teacher's union. "We have been for 30 years."
The resolution calls attention to the fact that, since Measure 5 — the landmark 1990 Oregon rule that placed limits on property taxes that fund schools — the state has "consistently underfunded its schools and failed to adopt a means of sustainably paying for public services."
Herron said the state currently underfunds education to the tune of almost $1.93 billion per year. He said the state needs to increase its school revenue, which he called "borderline criminal."
Not funding schools at a higher level has caused headaches for the district over the years, according to educators. Those include having to deal with larger student populations. Teachers also are seeking to relieve some of the high caseload work of special education teachers, counselors, school psychologists, speech/language pathologists and nurses by hiring more of them.
Public schools work with students who are experiencing everything from homelessness to trauma to unmet mental health needs. The issues were highlighted last week with a "Disrupted Learning Forum" held at Tualatin High School.
Sponsored by the union, the forum drew an estimated 104 attendees. Herron said the goal wasn't to place blame or shame on teachers, but to address problems funding shortages.
"In our opinion, disruptive learning is tied to funding," he said.
Before Monday's rally entered the Tigard-Tualatin School Board chambers, Herron pointed out, "This is not to point a finger at the district but to point a finger at (lawmakers in) Salem."
John Weber, a Tigard High School government teacher for the last 18 years, said he believes the student body needs more mental health support, noting the school has only five or six councilors for a student population of about 2,000.
Bridgeport Elementary School music teacher Julie Schmidt said district schools are seeing rises in emotional, behavioral and mental health issues in general. She also said many teachers are dealing with classrooms with more than 30 students.
Tualatin High School math teacher Caroline Blackledge said she wants to make sure teachers and classrooms remain safe when it comes to disruptive students.
She said more instructional assistants would help, noting that she had an instructional assistant last year who was supposed to be in four classes at once, something that proved very difficult.
Herron said, in the past, younger and less-experienced teachers would have concerns and would become frustrated with large classroom sizes and disruptive behavioral issues. Now it's the 30-year-or-more veterans who come to him, he said, something he fears will result in a talent drain.
Jill Zurschmeide, Tigard-Tualatin School Board chairwoman, said she believes, too, that schools are underfunded by the state, noting that the amount needed education funding should be twice the almost $2 billion increase currently being debated at the Legislature.
"What we need in this state is revenue reform," said Herron, referring to Measure 5. "This is a problem 30 years in the making."
Union members said they plan to attend what's expected to be a large rally at the Oregon State Capitol on Monday to gain support for more school funding.
Meanwhile, school board members are expected to meet with legislators in Salem on Tuesday, Feb. 26, to discuss funding and other legislative priorities.