Ore. teachers asked to make pay concessions

PORTLAND — Facing deep budget cuts, school districts across the state have turned to teachers, asking them to make sacrifices that could help education officials balance their budgets.

Meanwhile, teachers unions say they are open to working with school districts and making pay concessions but first they need more details from the state and evidence that districts are making cuts across all departments. They also caution those pay concessions aren't a long-term solution to the larger funding crisis.

"To help move Oregon schools out of crisis, we still need school districts to spend their money wisely," Gail Rasmussen, vice president of the Oregon Education Association, told The Oregonian. "And we need bold leadership from our elected leaders to ensure that everybody, especially profitable organizations, shares in the responsibility to ensure Oregon's future."

Superintendent Carole Smith of Portland Public Schools has asked all employees in the 46,000-student district to forgo cost-of-living increases for next year.

Clerical workers, education assistants and other classified staff members in Gresham initially supported a request to waive a cost-of-living increase. But after employees learned the concession probably wouldn't stop the district from laying off 38 staffers, support dwindled.

"I wanted people to understand what a concession can do and what it can't do," said Superintendent John Miner of Gresham-Barlow School District. "From the bigger picture, it will preserve some critical programs, jobs and opportunities for kids."

Hanna Vaandering, president of the Beaverton Education Association, said her members would rather have a shorter school year than stripped-down offerings and larger class sizes.

Kevin McCann, executive director of the Oregon School Boards Association, said his group has encouraged districts to wait as long as possible before formally approving budgets to allow board members and union officials to work from more information about the economy.

"They have to demonstrate they're not just looking at employees to carry this burden," he said. "They have to show they've looked everywhere to save money."

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