PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — News of the state’s historic $10.2 billion investment approved for the State School Fund came down in the middle of the Tigard-Tualatin School Board meeting as they discussed their budget, while dozens of teachers and other school staff were outside protesting recent layoffs.
The mood of the meeting quickly went from one that was quiet, even with some contention, to a meeting of elation as the school board learned of the investment.
Smiles and cheers erupted as State Rep. Ben Bowman, who also serves on the Tigard-Tualatin School Board, announced the news during Monday night’s school board meeting. It was a massive change to the meeting from just minutes before, where dozens of teachers and staff members clad in red and holding signs, walked out of the board meeting, in protest of recent budget cuts and layoffs by the district, just as the superintendent began to discuss the budget.
“After the initial reduction of 19 teaching positions due to circumstances to include additional retirements and resignations, we are currently in the process of bringing back 11 of those individuals,” said Dr. Sue Rieke-Smith, superintendent of the Tigard-Tualatin School District.
The group made their way outside, chanting, “Save the 19,” which could be heard from inside while the meeting continued — a move that one board member wasn’t happy about.
“I am frustrated beyond belief that group of protestors did not have the wherewithal and the grace and the politeness to stay and listen to our superintendent,” said Jill Zurschmeide, one of the school board members.
The protestors — many there on behalf of the district’s teachers union — say the district’s first move to cut staff wasn’t needed from the get-go.
“Three weeks later, they started calling people back and it begs the question, you knew these openings were going to be there, why did you lay them off in the first place,” asked Scott Herron, president of the Tigard-Tualatin Education Association.
Dr. Rieke-Smith says the initial layoffs came from the loss of 1,100 students, inadequate state funding and inflation.
“We continue our relentless efforts to impress upon our state leaders to prioritize investing in public education,” Dr. Rieke-Smith told the board moments before the SSF announcement.
Even with the return of some of those staff positions, Herron says they’ve been placed in different positions than before, like new school subjects and some even going from middle to elementary school.
“Every building, even though they didn’t have layoffs, has had a seismic shift in personnel to account for because there’s a ripple effect out. What we would really like is go back to where you were,” said Herron.
When paired with local property tax revenues, the total number going to K-12 schools will be more than $15 billion. It’s still unclear exactly how much of that will go to the Tigard-Tualatin School District.