When Gov. John Kitzhaber unveiled his budget last month, it included about $5.6 billion for K-12 education in Oregon. That's a lot of money but is also about $1 billion less than lawmakers and school districts thought they were going to get as recently as last June.
Tax receipts simply have not kept pace with rising personnel costs, however, so the expected total of about $6.6 billion for K-12 education is not there. That means Oregon's 197 school districts face some combination of teacher layoffs, compensation reductions and shortening the school year for the 2011-13 budget cycle.
Layoffs are painful and likely to be a contentious issue as budget discussions firm up. Oregon is one of 15 states in which teachers must by law be laid off according to seniority, with the last in being the first out. The Oregon Education Association, the powerful statewide teachers' union, says any layoff is regrettable but in the absence of a comprehensive teacher evaluation system, which Oregon lacks, seniority is the most objective approach.
Parents are aready contacting lawmakers to push for change on the issue. One parent shared the responses of Salem's Senate Education Committee Chairman Mark Hass (D-Beaverton) and House Education Co-Chairs Reps. Sara Gelser (D-Corvallis) and Matt Wingard (R-Wilsonville).
Here is the message the parent sent all three lawmakers:
I urge you to Save Great Teachers! As many as 160,000 teachers across the country will lose their jobs this year due to massive budget cuts that states, including Oregon, are facing. What’s even more devastating is that our children will lose thousands of great teachers because of antiquated “last in, first out” LIFO policies, which force out some of our best teachers, regardless of how good they are. Oregon currently requires the use of these types of policies, which essentially base layoff decisions on seniority rather than performance quality. I don’t believe tenure should dictate the quality of our children’s education. Research shows that when districts conduct seniority-based layoffs, we end up firing some of our most effective teachers.
So it’s up to you to lead the important effort to enact laws that Save Great Teachers by requiring school districts to keep our best teachers in the classrooms where they belong. Please put our students first, and champion legislation that eliminates LIFO polices.
And here are the lawmakers' responses to that parent:
From Hass' assistant:
Thank you for contacting our office with your concerns. Senator Hass has always enjoyed receiving mail, emails and phone calls from his constituents and that enjoyment still continues. This year is a challenging time financially for all everyone, including families and politicians. As you may know the Senator is the Chair of the Education Committee for the Senate and he holds have a lot of respect for the education system. Cutting the jobs of teachers and other staff in schools is not the ideal method to of balancing the state’s budget. The importance of these jobs is huge especially to the children’s lives that they are affecting daily. Education is a high priority for this office and an area that we feel deserves the time and energy. Thanks again for taking the time to contact our office.
Senator Mark Hass
Thanks for your letter and your concerns about public schools. Decisions about hiring and layoffs are made at the district level by locally elected school boards. I would urge you to contact your school board members with your ideas about how to improve and maintain quality public education in Oregon. Thanks again for writing!
And from Wingard:
Thank you very much for writing to me about our state's teachers and the "last in, first out" policies you described in your email. I appreciate hearing from you. Here in Oregon we value our teachers and are seeking ways to reform and model our educational system, in such a way that will evaluate a teacher's effectiveness as opposed to seniority alone. Representative Springer has put forward House Bill 2516, which will directly evaluate teachers based on performance rather than seniority. We must always be looking for new ways to give schools the tools they need to recognize the best instructors for our children.
I am proud to support these reforms and I am committed to seeking the best education options for our students in Oregon. To find out what you can do to help this cause, please visit http://www.studentsfirst.org/index.php/lifo?utm_medium=email&utm_source=studentsfirst&utm_campaign=20110314email&source=20110314email. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of any further assistance.