Jokes about Rajneeshees and rednecks fell quickly away Wednesday as scarlet-clad educators and community members got serious in their 4:30 p.m. rally and march in support of education.
About 300 people, most dressed in bright red shirts, gathered at Jackson Park for the so-called “Red For Ed” event, picking up dozens of hand-made signs with messages including “Fund Our Future”, and “WTF: Where’s The Funding?” carried by Cooper Rust, 10, and “Teachers Just Want to Have Funds.” Speakers included Superintendent Dan Goldman and Education Association President Kelvin Calkins.
Goldman called on the Legislature “to make an historic investment, one we’ve been waiting for three decades, in our children.”
School districts around the state staged walkouts to protest what many view as lack of responsiveness by the Oregon Legislature for funding K-12 education, in particular the pending House Bill 3427, which would generate an estimated $1 billion in annual revenue from sales taxes for use in K-12 funding support.
Speakers criticized the no-show at the Capitol Tuesday and Wednesday by Republican Senators, an apparent effort to stymie a vote on HB 3427.
Hood River’s GOP Sen. Chuck Thomsen was specifically called out at the rally for not appearing for the vote in Salem.
Sen. Thomsen was at home, officially excused, dealing with a bronchitis sickness when he learned of his colleagues’ walkout, he stated in press release Thursday.
“I don’t hold anything against those unhappy with my absence right now,” said Thomsen. “I am an adamant school funding advocate, but this is not the right way to do it.”
(Also on Wednesday, in downtown Portland, an estimated 25,000 people gathered for a “Red for Ed” rally.)
Wy’east Middle School Counselor Amy Hooper made a sign that riffed on a hip-hop song, reading, “I Got 99 Problems And All of Them Are Caused By Cuts to Education.” Hooper said some of those 99 things might include “overcrowded classrooms, not enough instructional aide support for higher needs students, not enough electives, not enough resources in the classroom.”
She added, “We could use another school counselor in the building.”
Asked what she hopes Wednesday’s action accomplishes, she said, “That the Legislature will look at what we are saying and listen to us and try to put education.”
In Hood River, the district worked with the local certified and classified employees’ unions to organize the after-school rally and march, which started at 4:30 p.m. and wound up at 5:45 p.m. at OverlookMemorial Park, where two city blocks of the street were closed.
Rally leaders including Hood River Middle School teacher Adam Smith led a call-and-response “Education is a right/That is why we’ve got to fight!”
“For whose schools?/Our Schools!”
Goldman asked the educators at Jackson Park, “Do we show up when things don’t to our way? Yes, we do.”
Calkins echoed the call.
“I’ve been a teacher at May Street for 28 years, and 29 years ago Oregonians passed Ballot Measure 5 (property tax limitation), and we’ve been disinvesting in education ever since.
“Two months before I started teaching here, they passed the Education Act for the 21st Century, and among other things promised a lot of testing, and we were going to have 220 days of instruction. Guess which one we have?
“We have disinvested in our children for two generations of our children. Think about that. Two generations have gone through this decline in funding.
“That can change with what we’re doing today, and if we can get our senators to show up to work.”
The Hood River turnout, and 25,000 people in Portland, he said, “show that we’re ready to stand up.”
Goldman said, “We are really fortunate to live in a community that supports us at the ballot box time after time, local option and captial resources. But sometimes I fear we live in a bubble here in Hood River. We just passed a budget with 18.4 staff members, reduced class sizes across K-12, adding counseling FTEs, support personnel, electives. That is a totally different convesation that’s happening across the state.
“Beaverton is making $32-34 million in cuts, and they also have a bond and levy, we are not the norm. This day of action is not about us. It’s about Oregon kids. Oregon kids deserve what Hood River kids have every single day.”
Goldman announced that the 2019-20 HRCSD budget maintains a 13 percent reserve, providing stability and protection against recession and other potential funding shortfalls.
“Over the last few years, the administration, under direction of our elected school board, has worked hard to create the conditions to secure our financial footing and strengthen our academic program,” Goldman said.
“Our efforts to reduce our operational footprint while investing in the strategies outlined in the district’s ‘20/20 Vision’ have paid off significantly. I’m proud of our district’s financial leadership and stewardship.”
Thomsen expects to be fully recovered by Monday next week and will join his colleagues’ efforts to send HB 3427 back to committee for reform. In his press release, he stated that, in early May, a resurrected version of Measure 97, a gross receipts sales tax, was introduced in the Oregon legislature: HB 3427. In 2016, Oregonians soundly defeated Measure 97 — the gross receipts tax. Over 60 percent of Senate District 26 (Hood River, Multnomah and Clackamas counties) voted no on Measure 97. Many revenue initiatives have failed in Oregon, but few were so clearly rejected as that one.
HB 3427 is called the “Student Success Act,” though revenues generated from the tax can be applied to anything at the discretion of the legislature because the funds are not dedicated by constitutional amendment. Large corporations have designed the bill to work favorably for them by securing tax breaks so the tax will be at the expense of smaller businesses, said a press release.
Quickly, the House of Representatives passed HB 3427, sending it to the Senate, where it remains. The Senate Republicans have responded by denying a quorum to vote on the bill.
Thomsen said, “I think the reason for the speed the majority party is moving the tax is because they want to hide the tax breaks for the big corporations in Oregon. The more that folks see how our largest corporations are barely hit by this tax, and that the smaller businesses carry the largest burden, the more opposition will grow, and we can send it back to committee and work together to create legislation that dedicates funds to our schools without such inequity.”
Thomsen said, “If that means I need to stay away from the Legislature to continue to fight for Oregon education, I will. I’ll probably be a ‘no’ for the gross receipts tax, since my district clearly rejects it. It’s the inequality of the tax that makes it worth denying quorum. I’ll show up if the majority party makes the tax fair.”